Ricardo Brey’s ongoing series Every Life is a Fire consists of unfolding archival boxes, that open to reveal miniature sculptural assemblages. Each box contains a unique collection of objects that represent dynamic and complex webs of objects and symbols. Just as the box must be unpacked to reveal the collection within, the viewer must continue to “unpack” what they see within in order to understand the intricacies of the work as a whole. The Numbers (2021) opens to reveal a transparent acrylic cylinder with a collection of thistles painted blue inside, resting on a closed leporello book. Now laid to the sides, the walls of the archival box are covered with glass baubles and found number plates, reflecting the artist’s longstanding incorporation of assemblage into his practice. Enclosing the wild, botanic element of the thistle within a definitively man-made material like acrylic emphasizes Brey’s concern with the intersection between humanity and the natural world. Likewise, the orderly numbers framing the central element speak to the constant effort to impose order on ecology. Reflecting on the work’s symbolic potential, Brey states, “The box is our head, the box is our cave, the box is the attic, the box is the memory and the world. The boxes are an attempt to spatially represent… a hermeneutics of the soul to create a topography of the mind.”
Mpoma, Annie Wetsi, Hannah Iterbeke, Koen Leemans, and Peter Verhelst. Ricardo Brey: Gap in the Clouds. Luc Derycke, Femke Vandenbosch, and Isabel Brey eds. Exh. cat. Ghent: MER. Imprint of Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2022, pp. 196–99.