click image to go back
JEAN RUITER PROJECT / Archive and Stock Sales photoworks Jean Ruiter
About Us / About Jean Ruiter / Projects / Texts / Contact
37 / Cathedrals in the Desert / 1994
01 / St Spirito / 1994
02 / Arch of Titus / 1994
03 / Dominicaner Church / 1994
04 / Winchester Cathedral / 1994
05 / St Stephens / 1994
06 / Dom of Milan / 1994
07 / St Trinita / 1994

If you are interested in obtaining a photowork, please contact us

Related Texts:
Cathedrals in the Desert by Edward Earle, Curator, Collections, International Center of Photography, New York
Cathedrals in the Desert by Jonathan Green, Previous Director UCR/California Museum of Photography


Cathedrals in the Desert
by Edward Earle, Curator, Collections, International Center of Photography, New York

Jean Ruiter has been following a multicultural investigation for several decades. His travels have taken him to nearly all the continents of the earth, giving him the perspective of a 'world citizen'. From reportage to assemblage he has used the tools of photography to make clear statements from the hearth as well as from the head. His new 'cultural constructions' offer cathedrals without congregations, spires reach to a god paying homage to a consumer culture. In the desiccated land of Century plants and Joshua trees - a landscape with biblical features - edifices from another millennium arise: the cathedrals of Europe in the Southern California desert. Such an ironic place to bring representations of a glorious but aging culture which reached its maturity long ago! California - the land founded in mythologies with presumed riches, becomes the site for flying buttresses hol ding up only the shell of a previous civilization - that very civilization which laid claim to California for crown and God. These cathedrals, like illusions in the mind of a modern-day Quixote,are born in a land known for its faults - moral, spiritual and seismic. In Jean Ruiter's work, the same vengeful political and ecclesiastical authority that subjucated the indigenous people of the America's is now enshrouded with the symbols of contemporary decadent American culture. The signs of corporate mass production, of superficiality and of false gods adorn the structures. Jean Ruiter give us a world of decay and of greed but his structures remain elegant,poised on the desert soil reminding us that the realm of the spirit and of regeneration comes from land both for the poor catechumens of Medieval times and for the indigenous people upon whom Christianity was imposed.


Cathedrals in the Desert
excerpt from Jonathan Green's essay (previous Director UCR/California Museum of Photography)

The great religious architectural icons of Europe are reconstructed in the desert of Southern California in the manner of a flat Hollywood set or an American highway billboard. Here, in a transformation both beautiful and mocking, these buildings are given a new American skin. The stones and mortar of the European facades are replaced with more indigenous American products.The Arch of Titus is covered with 2500 red foil packets of Heinz Ketchup a more fitting reference for Americans who are much more adept at identifying the arches of a hamburger chain than the golden arches of the Arch of Titus. The DOM of Milan of is covered with fake pink fur, while stone facade of Santa Trinita is replaced with 48 ounce T-Bone steaks.

These substitutions reinvent European icons of high culture and history as banal American kitsch: monuments that are, for most Americans, simultaneously incomprehensible references to a history and a culture forever lost in the new world at the same time they are clearly understandable suggestions of a commodification and marketing mentality central to the contemporary American socio-cultural psyche. Yet, miraculously, in Ruiter's hands these ironic new objects remain sensual and beautiful. These reconstructions have not been built on just any American site, rather they are reconstructed at America's most sacred place, the high desert of the mythic West. Desert light and space provide an archetypal American site. The beauty of the 2500 Heinz Ketchup foil packets shimmering in the desert sun is both subversive and actual. Here sacrilege is transformed into an homage to American commerce at the same time it mockingly tells of the distance between America and its European roots.
There is another mysterious and unaccountable point of correspondence between Ruiter's Cathedrals in the Desert and the work of his European ancestor. Daguerre worked first as a painter in the high romantic style and then as the painter
and engineer of the Diorama, an illusionistic theater with amazingly
realistic changing light effects. Daguerre's subjects, both in his painting and in the Diorama, were frequently the ruined facades of European churches, chapels, an abbeys. The facades of these silhouetted Gothic ruins were subtly transformed by Daguerre by controlling the light from skylights and windows.

Ruiter transforms his facades both with hot desert light and with the not so subtle imposition of peculiar American commodities. Ruiter's Cathedrals in the Desert continues Daguerre's romantic notion of positing the ruined cathedral as vehicle and metaphor for the intersection of history and modernity. In both Daguerre's and Ruiter's work, architectural power and utility resides not in a fully structured building, but in the use of the building's disembodied facade as icon: the exterior architectonic geometry of Ruiter's and Daguerre's churches become the objectification of history and hold the aura of Europe's high religions. Their geometry is merely a metaphor by which the past is projected upon the present. The viewer's relationship to these reconstructions is not as an actual inhabitant but as a voyeur, a spectator at the symbolic resurrection of the past within the contemporary world. For Daguerre these reminiscences of history existed in the shadowy light of a darkened theater or gallery. Jean Ruiter's cathedrals decompose in the harsh, unflinching light of the American desert.
One of Jean Ruiter's most persuasive strategies for interweaving moments of time is the use of multiple framing. In his work the continuous flat surface of the photograph is frequently interrupted with either a cutout that leads through to another image or by an object or framed image that is superimposed above the primary image. These dimensional impositions challenge our usual experience of viewing photographs as seamless replications of reality and force us to experience the image in a space which is both dimensional and changes in time. At times this variable space is further extended through the use of mirrors. The world of his images is always once removed from the evidentiary world we postulate as {real, true,} and {photographic.}