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Digital Engrams
by Gabriela Ruiz
Jean Yokes Woodhead Visiting Artist

November 2 – December 8, 2023
Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer
Gallery hours: M-F 9am-5pm

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series: "Digital Engrams" with Gabriela Ruiz
Thursday, November 2, 2023
Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty

Opening Reception and artist conversation with Gabriela Ruiz and Curator Amanda Krugliak
Thursday, November 2, 2023
Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer

CCS Woodward Lecture: "Navigating Memory and Fantasy in the Digital Realm," with Gabriela Ruiz
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
College for Creative Studies, 201 E. Kirby, Detroit

The notion that our brains actually create memories first stored and then revisited has been contemplated since the time of Plato and Aristotle. These units of memory, or engrams, are poetic portals through which we time travel, gaining hindsight and foresight, more meaning and greater wisdom, and hopes for a future less encumbered. Beyond reminiscences of technicolor sunsets, perhaps memories are simply the brain's records of endless repetitions and familiar neural pathways.

In an era of iPhones, Macbooks, Instagram, and Facebook, everything that’s happened to us in recent memory is at our immediate disposal and made to look noticeably better than the original … every day of every year, every meal of every trip, every postcard destination.

With constant 24/7 access to the newsreel of our own lives, are we losing our innate ability to remember what matters in the process?

In the site-specific Digital Engrams, L.A. artist Gabriela Ruiz sources video from her cellphone and the internet, in combination with visceral color, sound, and sculptural elements to create an immersive environment that challenges our sensibilities. The installation considers how images function on and off the screen, and how memories real and curated are at the crux of personal and cultural identity. Who do we think we are in this life or the eternal life on the internet hereafter?

In Digital Engrams, massive slabs of plexiglass feel monolithic, like headstones. Powder-coated aluminum is suggestive of iPhone and Android motherboards. A spiral engraving appears to reference an ancient symbol, while artificial rocks and moss imitate nature. Ruiz’s installation hints at traces of the human experience, yet is strangely devoid of any signs or proof of real life.

If our phones become artifacts of the future/past found among the rubble, what stories will they tell?

– Amanda Krugliak, Institute for the Humanities Arts Curator

Gabriela Ruiz’s (b. 1991, Los Angeles, CA) practice explores shifting ideas of home and sentiments of belonging through the lens of cultural, socioeconomic, and personal issues. Blending diverse forms of creative expression through performance, sculpture, and installation, she investigates her relationship to her body and emotions by building work that becomes the physical manifestation of her identity and psychological experience. Ruiz explores the Mexican American experience, surveillance capitalism, mass consumerism, and the intersection of technology and emotion. Ruiz's practice reflects the DIY work ethic she was raised under, the vibrancy of Mexican cultural and artistic traditions, and her exposure to subculture and fantasy at a young age to escape the realities of daily life.

Ruiz’s most recent solo exhibition was at the Palm Springs Art Museum (2022), where she was an Outburst Projects resident. Her many group and solo shows include ones at Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles (2022); Chicago Art Expo, Chicago (2022); and Museo de las Artes, Guadalajara (2019). In addition to exhibitions, Ruiz has staged various performances and collaborations.

Gabriela Ruiz is the 2023 Jean Yokes Woodhead Visiting Artist. This exhibition is part of LSA’s fall 2023 Arts & Resistance theme semester and was made possible by a grant from the Arts Initiative at the University of Michigan.