Ruby's Room  1998 - 2007 

the musee du quai Branly portfolio
October 30 - November 24, 2007   


Jonathan Smart Gallery is delighted to present the musee du quai Branly portfolio from Ruby's Room 1998 - 2007, an exhibition of photographs by Anne Noble. We run concurrently with 36 mural size prints from Ruby's Room, which hang in Paris's newest art museum, the musee du quai Branly, until January 18th, 2008.

This European exhibition is an outstanding moment for Anne Noble, in a long career of achievement. The quai Branly portfolio is the suite of photographs purchased by that institution for their permanent collection - or the collection of the Art of Oceania, as they prefer to describe it.

Ruby's Room is a collaborative portrait project. Over a nine year period, mother and daughter playfully documented Ruby's oral adventures with food, (food) colouring, lipstick and other objects. It started amongst friends at Ruby's 5th birthday, and concluded early in this, Ruby's 14th year. And while it is unusual to see the mouth isolated, static and in such intimate proximity, the resulting series 45 images strong is a truly wide-ranging, audacious and at times formidable body of work.

The photographs are brightly coloured but usually lacking any hard visual edge. And they have a softness that is almost painterly in application. For the quality of the French digital printing is exquisite - endearingly sensitive in its registration of tone and subtle colour modulation. Standing before #1 and #21 is to bear witness to this particular beauty.

The emotional range within Ruby's Room is also profound. The pitch of #13 is straight: the image to which one enters the show here is a close-up of Ruby's mouth; lips closed, reddish, and conventionally pretty. Next right #37 is utterly different. It features dark lipstick and mouth puckered like a sphincter or the petals of a flower, with the odd small hair sharply in focus. Here is beauty both stunning and abject. Then alongside, #5 is full of gaudy colour, lifesaver sweetness, and all the fun of the fair.

There is throughout a spontaneity and very real sense of play - the energy and innocence of childhood that was Noble's intention to portray from the beginning.
But as adults we can bring a quite different experience (of the mouth) to these images. Or as Noble noted in her interview with curator Yves Le Fur (from the quai Branly catalogue):

"I am interested by the idea of childhood as defined by the imagination of adults. To create a true idea of childhood you need to celebrate the insignificant moments. I wanted to magnify the colour, the spontaneity, the life, the fun and play, all the things that I enjoyed as a mother…I was very aware of how important colour was in conveying a present, visceral experience. It's a child's mouth, it's child's play and I used colour to speak to that present…But when some people responded with quite obvious discomfort around what they viewed as sexual, I concluded that these photographs actually bring them face to face with their own fears."

For me, that contemplation of beauty with real insight (that mix of pleasure and pain if you like), is testament to the breadth and significance of Ruby's Room as art, as visual thinking, as practice in our world today.

Jonathan Smart

Selected works

Ruby's Room #04


Ruby's Room #05

Ruby's Room #09

Ruby's Room #13

Ruby's Room #20

Ruby's Room #21
1.   #4      4/10
2.   #5      3/10
3.   #9      7/10
4.   #13    4/10
5.   #20    3/10
6.   #21    5/10