Standing in front of “Duty Cycle”—the geometrically pristine, 17-foot paper disc that serves as the centerpiece for Cris Bruch’s Dreaming Doing Craving—the Seattle-based artist jokes about being the unconventional guy in black talking about his art. He says he is “fundamentally different than what people think an artist is”; he is not “a self-involved egotist forcing his will onto the world.”
For Bruch (pronounced “brew”), creating art is a matter of submitting to the process. A carpenter by trade, Bruch starts by identifying the perimeters of a project. And as in dreaming, the possibilities may initially seem nearly infinite. “My work must have some connection to how I live,” he says. “And there are always limits to what you can and can’t do. The important thing is what you can create within those limits, what realm of possibilities you can explore.
“I have this body of ideas floating around like a cloud of bees,” he continues, “and then I have this inventory of materials. In my work, they interpenetrate each other.”
In addition to the immense paper disc are a gigantic sponge-like work called “Mantle,” the open nutshell simplicity of “What Do You Want To Talk About,” and the horn-like protrusions of “Yearn.” These works, created between 1993 and 2001, are shown in the Main Gallery. A conscious delineation between two very different phases of Bruch’s career was created by displaying the artist’s pre-1993 work in the Center’s Street Level Gallery, where disassembled and reassembled shopping carts that comment on homelessness and consumption demonstrate Bruch’s earlier activist leanings. While these pieces are powerful statements in their own right, Bruch doesn’t see the world as he did back then.
“I no longer think things are that simple,” he admits.
Bruch’s 17-year body of work encompasses the political, textual, conceptual, formal and performance-based, yet it does not lose its power or its cohesiveness. Bruch insists that all art should articulate our relationships to each other and a relevance to the everyday. His art is an extension of himself, he says. Inevitably, life breathes through each of his pieces.
Bruch’s need to insert daily life into his work sometimes draws him to the streets. His rubbed impressions of bricks, grates and manhole covers give us the fingerprints of Bruch’s Seattle neighborhood. “I have to see what people are really doing out there, rather than being cooped up in my studio,” he notes.
Like life, Dreaming Doing Craving is mostly improvisational in its creation, although highly finished in its realization. Following a meditative process of repetition—the “doing” of Dreaming Doing Craving—Bruch admits that he often doesn’t know how a piece will turn out until very close to its completion. Though he estimates that he worked over 600 hours on “Mantle,” he confesses that it “didn’t look anything like that until about 12 hours before it looked like that.” During much of its creation, the piece—assembled entirely of paper cones—hung suspended in mid-air by numerous strings taped to the wall by Bruch, who systematically loosened one and tightened another until achieving the desired result.
“A piece is done when it’s closest to the truth,” explains Bruch. However, sometimes he never finds it, and pieces lie short of completion. “A fair amount of stuff doesn’t make it. You arrive at a spot where you don’t want to work on it anymore. You have to make the ultimate call.”
Making art is not particularly easy or comfortable, Bruch asserts: “Artists need to want to make art pretty badly.” Hence the “craving” in Dreaming Doing Craving, a title that aptly describes Bruch’s creative process. “I don’t have much time to make art,” he says, “so what I do has to be pretty pressing. It has to reassert itself in my consciousness before I agree to do it. It has to be something I ‘d rather do than sleep. The amount I get back making art doesn’t bear any relationship to what I put into it. It is fundamentally an activity that requires faith.”
The show’s title emerged from Bruch’s piece “How Did I Get Here?”—an assemblage of under-lit trash can lids punctured by compact phrases such as “dreaming doing craving,” “that familiar strangeness,” “paths not taken disappear” and “the past isn’t what it was.” The strength of “How Did I Get Here?” is that it openly invites the viewer to finish its thoughts, and Bruch’s affection for language explains both his use of text and his commitment to other means of expression.
“The beauty of language is that it is so lousy at communicating,” Bruch says. “Its imprecision makes art necessary.”