Interview
A brush with

A brush with... Sterling Ruby

We ask the artist about his favourite novels and find out about the Polish song he listens to on repeat

Sterling Ruby © Bennet Perez

If you could live with just one work of art, what would it be?

Vladimir Tatlin’s Corner Counter-Relief (1914). Tatlin is an inspiration for me, in general. This little work is the formal embodiment of all of his art, architectural monuments, theatre and costume design. It’s what I’m trying to do.

Which cultural experience changed the way you see the world?

September 11 had the biggest impact on me, in regards to how I see the world. I became more aware of the global consequences of the divisions between patriotism, religion and politics, as well as the anxiety and aggression that these different per- suasions produce. On a lighter note, another incredibly important cultural experience would be the first time I visited the Roman Forum. It just blows my mind. I love being there in late spring or early summer, when the red poppies are in full bloom.

Which book challenged your thinking?

Joyce Carol Oates’s Zombie still sticks with me. I can’t believe she was able to write a book about the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the first person.

Which writer/poet do you return to most?

I keep returning to Hannah Arendt, especially living in the United States through these past three years.

What are you watching, listening to, or following that you would recommend?

At the moment, my phone won’t hook up to my car, so I’m on a one-CD loop of Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony No. 3”, better known as “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”. This 1976 recording is broken into three solo soprano Polish narratives: Mary, mother of Jesus; a message on the wall of a Gestapo cell during the Second World War; and a folktale about a mother whose son was killed by Germans in the Silesian Uprisings. The past week of listening to this during my commute throughout Los Angeles has made this place seem lonely and broken. Prior to this, I was listening to the new Big Thief [US indie rock band] album, Two Hands. The song “Not” is my favourite track. Adrianne Lenker’s vocals are more fragile and strained than ever and Buck Meek’s guitar solo is stripped down without losing its ferocity.

What is art for?

Non-rational contemplation.

Sterling Ruby’s exhibition at ICA Boston, US, continues until 26 May