Congregational Fantasies: Ruth Maendel

Ruth Maendel

We attended the opening of an exhibition of art by Ruth Maendel at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg last evening. Ruth is a young, local artist; she’s currently working for the government and doing her art on the side.

Ruth does all manner of interesting work. Wonderful photographs of tiny and unexpected things, for example — things like tiny mushrooms on a wood chip, bubbly scum in a bucket, ladles hanging in a camp kitchen, a slice of grapefruit with its luscious veins (title: “Behold! The Majestic Morning Assembly”), close-ups of gas flames in an oven (title: “Northern Lights in an Oven”), or flames curling around a kettle on the stove. When she notices and focusses on them, then brings them to our attention, we realize just how unique and wonderful they are.

She also does free standing, installation-type work, much of it clearly labour intensive. One of the central pieces here was “Wave” (a portion of it shown below). She wanted to recreate the look of water she said, and was also thinking of God’s Spirit, how it’s described as water, and of people like cups, sometimes receiving, sometimes pouring into other lives, but being together. — I asked, and she said it was fine for me to include some pictures here, but I’m a point-and-click kind of photographer, so these should be considered poor representations of the actual work — the piece has an undulating effect and more vivid colour than my photo is capturing. But it does communicate something of the exhibition’s title — “Congregational Fantasies.” For the artist’s photo of the piece, see here.

detail, "Wave," R. Maendel

“I’m drawn to things in groups,” she said.

"Tunnel Book," R. Maendel

She’s also clearly fond of layers and doors and tunnels. One of my favourites pieces was “Tunnel book,” constructed of an old German Bible. Hard to see on the photo below, but it’s got tiny doors at the very back. As if to suggest that beyond the front door and the steps (made of pages of words) up and in, deeper and deeper, there’s even more, mystery and depth and surprise.

Ruth Maendel’s art is fun to view but also profound in its effect. You realize, as you mull over it later, that you’ve seen the ordinary made as great and amazing as it really is. And you realize, again, that you’ve got to start really looking at what’s right in front of you.

At the same time you’ve seen great and amazing truths (Spirit, community) made “ordinary” — accessible, that is — in stories of ceramic bowls and layers of paper.