JACK + LEIGH RUBY’S ‘CAR WASH INCIDENT’ AT MICHAEL JON GALLERY
Brother and sister pair Jack and Leigh Ruby had spent their childhood in a small town of upstate New York where they naturally became close with the local proprietors; like Matt, the owner of a convenience store. In 1975 Matt found himself in a financial struggle against a plummeting economy and a newly opened discount supermarket. Jack and Leigh wanted to help their friend so they created false evidence for Matt…“They smashed the backdoor, ransacked the store, staged a robbery and created a handful of photos of suspicious characters engaged in questionable activity in the neighborhood.” The sibling team, Leigh hardly 19 and Jack in his early 20’s, immediately embarked on a life of duality and became the Robin Hood of “facilitators for insurance claims,” which they continued for over 20 years. Leigh Ruby describes the following years:
“We moved around a lot; upstate New York, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and we both ended up in New York City after the Matt’s Convenience Store ‘robbery,’ realizing we’d be wise to get out of a small town. I found work on Captain Kangaroo and Jack managed to join the Teamsters. By 1976 Jack and I were both more or less in New York City full time. We left for Australia at the end of ’83. Similar to our reasons for leaving upstate for NYC, Jack and I realized it was time to move on.”
It was there, 1998 in Australia, that the Ruby’s were caught in a fraud in which they robbed their own house. Their long-successful run swiftly came to an end and they were sentenced to incarceration thanks to one photo presented as proof against their defense in court, which had surprisingly turned up in a New York City loft. For 13 years they remained imprisoned, cleaning up their act while New York City’s downtown artist bohemia was, almost mirroring their careers, transitioning from a hotbed of criminal activity to the neatly-packaged SoHo and Lower East Side we know today.
They remained connected to NYC, as their lawyer was based there. It was through him that the Rubys were introduced to NYC-based producers Simon Lee and Eve Sussman, who heard the siblings’ story and were greatly interested in meeting them. At the time communication had to take place via email, fax, and Skype, which Jack and Leigh were lucky to have access to at the Cooma Correctional Facility, Australia. As Lee and Sussman got to know the Ruby’s a creative relationship developed. Soon the same photograph of the staged fraud at a car wash in the 70s that had been presented in court became the springboard for what would become Car Wash Incident; an art installation consisting of a 35minute two-channel video loop with an eight-channel audio system.
The work is not a duplication of the event. “Quite frankly I don’t remember everything that’s going on in that photograph,” mused Leigh Ruby in an on-air interview with Clocktower Radio’s Will Corwin. Car Wash Incident is a re-interpretation of the photograph. Sussman noted in the same interview that “Jack and Leigh did things that were very artistic without ever calling it art.” The video, comprised of the same scene, filmed over and over again at different angles, features two identical casts of 4 (8 actors total) simultaneously performing a choreographed plot; one cast enacting the plot story “clockwise” and the other depicting the plot “counter-clockwise.” Leigh Ruby describes working with choreographer Claudia de Serpa:
“We showed her the photograph […] The way we used to set things up is we’d leave it very open ended and confusing so that it was harder to prove anything. I’m not even going to say one person or two people are actually involved in the scam and the rest is just kind of a decoy […] We told her those things and she made the dance.”
The film itself is equally misleading “as a conceptual conceit […] literally within the narrative arch the whole point of the piece is that there’s nothing specific to be gotten,” explains Sussman: “The story turns in on itself, the camera doubles back on itself, the bag is given and taken away, nobody knows what’s in it…That said, I hope audiences get a sense of constantly shifting – in flux – realities in the piece” Lee continues:
“It is only after watching for some time that people begin to realize that everything [not just the two double-sided screens displayed in the installation for the projected film] (characters, cars, signs, props, sidewalks, street corner, fire hydrants) is doubled and that the story is reversing as the dynamic between the characters keeps shifting”
The show premiered to NYC’s audience in 2013 at the SPRING/ BREAK Art Show, traveled to the Moscow International Film Festival that summer, and was included in the 2014 Frankfurt Biennial. The same year it premiered, Sussman met Michael Jon Radziewicz at her show at the Bass Museum in Miami. Six months later Radziewicz opened Michael Jon Gallery, Miami, and expanded to Detroit last year. It is here in its first long-term exhibition at Michael Jon Gallery, Detroit, that the work finds what might be its most suited home. Radziewicz agrees “the gallery’s architecture and neighborhood look eerily similar to the film-set and furthers that doubling” infused in every element of the piece. Additionally, Lee notes,
The piece is steeped in the atmosphere of a bygone age (the early 70’s) which was a difficult and powerful time for the city of Detroit. There is an unrelentless ‘throb’ from the engines of the Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers throughout the piece; but the protagonists in the unresolved drama appear to be small time players, confused and not in control of their destiny – something you might say is also true of Detroit.”
PLAYGROUND DETROIT: You have translated the duality you were living (the work you had kept hidden for many years) into artwork that expresses duality of perspective and forces the audience to explore duality in their sense of sight and sound. Have you found that duality plays an essential role in your everyday lives or is that a theme purely reflective of your past?
Jack and Leigh Ruby: “Duality haunts us. It is part of who we are, past and present –– not [to say] that it’s not exhausting. As much as we’ve turned over a new leaf and no longer engage in elicit activity we will never be able to completely rid ourselves of our history, so using that duality as a characteristic in our work makes sense. Maybe there is also duality in balancing our being true to the goals of art making and [the need to be] selling it.”
 As told by the Ruby’s to Simon Lee and Eve Sussman
Jack + Leigh Ruby’s Car Wash Incident is on view at Michael Jon Gallery, Detroit through May 23, 2015.
611 W. Philadelphia St, 48202
Preview a 6minute excerpt here.
Production: Simon Lee and Eve Sussman
Sponsored by: Panavision, NY, and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant
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