Artists’ Studio: The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us Is Not Distance

Artist Ruth Koelewyn shares dynamic installation at Marywood’s Suraci Gallery

Embodying both male and female qualities, the mythological character Hermaphroditus was thought by ancient Greeks to symbolize the coming together of man and woman in marriage. This ideal of union is still touted in modern times even as reality has demonstrated for thousands of years how unknown even our closest soul mates can really be.
A lecturer in the art department at Marywood University, artist and designer Ruth Koelewyn was in graduate school when her grandfather died.
“He was part of World War II, he was Dutch, and he had a whole other life that never really talked about,” she told electric city. “It was obviously hard for him to talk about.”
The realization that she didn’t really know him gave her a lot of trouble. She was brought to an eerily similar awareness when her husband Joseph Gluba, an assistant professor of architecture and interior architecture at Marywood University passed in July.
“I had no idea he was going through so much trouble,” she said quietly. “But I wouldn’t have recognized that I didn’t know him if I hadn’t been near him.”
It was likely his influence on her, she added, that’s led her to think about space in a new way.
“Two people in a relationship are this dynamic thing that is always moving. And this is a snapshot of that … the beautiful thing is that they are proximate, they are close to each other and they are trying to find each other.”
We dropped in on the artist last week as she completed the work on a new installation titled “The Space Between Us Is Not Distance” in Marywood’s Suraci Gallery. Koelewyn had yet to cover the outer walls of the structure in white muslin fabric but most of the work was finished.
The installation invites you to walk down a roomy hallway before a forced turn leads you into a chamber dominated by two floor-to-ceiling vertical, rectangular columns so bright they are almost impossible to look at directly. In being unable to look directly at the columns, she said, you are forced to look at that space between these two things, and not at the things themselves. The installation grew out of an idea she had for the lights.
“I needed these two bodies, but I knew that I couldn’t let them be the important thing because they weren’t — it was the actions between the two bodies creating the space that were the important things.” said Koelewyn.
The interior walls are painted in a deep dove gray. In the floor, slanted ruts cause the floor to shift under your feet. The artist expressed some uncertainty about the “spongy” feel as we passed over the floorboards and noted she might have to make some alterations so the shift was more of a jolting one. Not scary, she said, but recognizably very different if you’re not looking down. Plexiglas strips in the groves will carry the light across the floorboards.
As you stand linger in this chamber before exiting, you may notice light seeping in from an opening of several inches of clear Plexiglas running along the bottom of the exterior wall. Those walking around the structure from the outside are looking at your feet or the shadows the cast in the light leaking out from within. The understanding is that there are people inside, but you are not part of it. This creates another layer of separation.
Although she feels the hallway is the natural entry point, there are no signs telling people how to progress or how they should experience the installation. The work is modular — she had to construct it in pieces outside the gallery and then re-assemble it inside the Suraci. Future constructions of the work might feature more than two “bodies,” or allow her to achieve the idea of multiple and overlapping constructs.
The ideas behind the work, she said, are really rather universal and she hopes people beyond academia will connect to the work.
“It is in some ways a very removed, abstracted thing, but I’m hoping it can also be a visceral experience that just bodily will give you some understanding of these things I’m talking about. It is beautiful that despite not completely knowing another person you can live with them and trust them so much,” she said. You have to be able to appreciate that you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and make the most of that moment.”
The philosophy behind her work as a jewelry designer is not dissimilar. Persona decor, she suggested, is a tool we use to explore this ever changing world.
“If I’m going out for a big night to a gala, I might put on very big statement piece to grab notice, but if I’m just going to hang out with friends I might put on a very different piece of jewelry.
“In some small way, this is a recognition of the way you change yourself entirely and that other people must be doing it too.”
If you go:
What: The Space Between Us Is Not Distance: an installation exploring relationships between people by Ruth Koelewyn
When: Feb.1-28. Artist’s reception: Saturday, Feb. 1, 6-8 p.m. Gallery talk: Feb. 19, 3 p.m. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Suraci Gallery, Marywood University
Info: (570) 348-6278 or