Ruth Cummins: Tidying Down


While Marie Kondo (whose book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was an international best-seller) can be found on Netflix exhorting the benefits of throwing out and tidying up as a path to self-improvement, artist Ruth Cummins is Tidying Down in her latest solo show.

But Cummins explains that her exhibition isn’t “really a knee-jerk reaction to decluttering.” Instead she found inspiration from a diverse range of texts, including American sci-fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,’ and quotes by the Austrian-British philosopher Wittgenstein.

Cummins is interested in the symbolism attached to methods of domestic improvement. “I think there are contemporary obsessions surrounding both hoarding and living minimally that serve as a perverse distraction from the conditions of excess and anxiety that we live in,” she says. “I find collective fixations on domestic modification and self-improvement to be tied up with an unattainable sense of optimism. That said, I’m not really for or against these things, I’m more interested in teasing out how they might overlap, contradict or enhance each other.”

In Tidying Down the artist presents a series of layered, modular textile objects.

Vaguely resembling soft-furnishings and frequently adorned with text fragments lifted from fridge magnets, these sculptural wall hangings are deliberately ambiguous and Cummins hopes that “these artworks could be seen in the same light as the objects marketed in genres of domestic improvement and self-development.”

Despite her focus on the domestic in Tidying Down, Cummins also wants to confound gender stereotypes. “I hope that if somebody was trying to link textiles and cleaning the home to traditional women’s work when viewing this exhibition, that they would find it a complex and confusing feat.”

Tidying Down
Ruth Cummins
Wagga Wagga Art Gallery
2 February – 17 March

This article was originally published in the March/April 2019 print edition.

Preview Words by Tracey Clement