Photos and text by Monica Uszerowicz
To view it is to intrinsically understand what it might feel like. For all their stillness, Rubi’s designs are physical and tactile—whether you’re touching them or not.
Perhaps this is a result of their creation: existing at a cross-section between design, sculpture, interior design, and wearable art, Rubi’s pieces are the result of hunting through construction sights and scrap yards, of blowing glass through copper wire to create unusual shapes—palpable physicality—and, all the while, examining each mistake and moment of clarity through the lens of someone who studied production design. In other words: real play and touch is significant, but it’s all contextualized through a rather distant scope.
Deon Rubi, born Lucila Garcia de Onrubia (look again at the last half of her name—Deon Rubi was a yearbook’s typo), moved from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Miami as a child, spending afternoons crafting ceramics and flower designs with her mother. After creating a line of jewelry—all of which seem to be retrieved from within the earth itself and then refined by a delicate hand—Rubi debuted a collection of objects that are as functional as they are soothing to the eye, all hefty, chunky metals and sweet pastels: vases, lamps, jars, maybe-candle holders, mirrors in which the reflection is unclear. Remove the item’s contents (daisies, bulbs, candles, your own face in the mirror) and they stand alone as unusual, sturdy, and inexplicably sensuous. Entitled Love Always and curated by Ricky Mor, the series showcased at the Miami Center for Architecture and Design (MCAD), located in the city’s downtown area. Honoring the neighborhood’s former golden era as a high-end boutique district, Love Always was viewed from behind windowpane glass—a nod to Rubi’s set-design background, and an unfortunate circumstance for those of us who wished to touch it all. Two days after the show’s opening, we visited Rubi in her studio to discuss her history, the show itself, and her real name.
It’s a time when things are genderless—rolling around and getting dirty.
When did you start making jewelry?
My mom is super into arts and crafts, so we’d always make flower garlands or ceramic stuff—very D.I.Y.—around the house on Sunday afternoons, both in Argentina and when we would go to Uruguay for summer vacation. I think that’s how it started.
Did you consistently make jewelry first, before you expanded into the sort of work you’re doing now?
Yes. It was around Art Basel 2007—I went with my mom, who is a furniture designer, to an acrylic warehouse, and they had a giant dumpster full of little scraps and pieces. I was super into them and took a bunch home. The scale was perfect for the body. I just started playing around with that—making holes and stringing things and making weird compositions or color arrangements or block forms.
And how did you transition into your current practice?
I think I was interested in expanding scale and expanding function. The jewelry’s function is very specific, so I wanted to make something that was still functional, but that could also stand on its own as a sculpture. It felt like I could work a little more abstractly by looking at these bigger objects as sculptural forms.
Perhaps because you’ve moved away from working strictly with design, your work no longer falls into a simple category.
Especially for this show. What MCAD is trying to do with their project space is get to this mix of art, architecture, and design. I wanted to play in the cross of all those disciplines. The materials are related to architecture in the sense that a lot of them are construction materials: copper, metal, wood, acrylic; I learned how to wire lamps, which is like architecture. The design element is the function and the aesthetic working together to create an object that you can use. The art is the freedom to go beyond the design: to free the typical shape of things, to go beyond the average vase and make it more sculptural, or more abstract—in the sense that when you look at it, it could be a vase, but if it doesn’t have flowers, it could be a sculpture.
The mirror, too—it was kind of interesting because it is a mirror, but you can’t really see yourself in it. That plays into this same idea. It’s design, but it could also be something else. A lot of the ideas are concept-based before they become an object.
You work with raw materials. From where do you source them, and how do you “handle” them? They are manifested in this very painterly, almost stereotypically feminine way, but the materials themselves aren’t—again, not stereotypically, anyway.
There’s definitely that contrast. I think that exists within me, and that’s how the process goes. The places that I have to go to find the materials are really “masculine” spaces, where I don’t run into any women. The actual process of making things could also be associated with masculinity: power tools and strength, using the body to work with materials usually associated with men’s jobs. I’m at Home Depot all the time, which is stereotypically seen as a man’s world. It’s through that more masculine element where the feminine essence gets portrayed. It’s like using the masculine to create the feminine—the passageway for the feminine is through this very masculine process. Even with the jewelry, I’m playing with fire and can’t keep a manicure because I’m always using my hands. Most of my metals for jewelry come from the scrap yards, which is another man’s world.
I’m really interested in this do-it-yourself process. It might be a South American thing: you have to make do with what you have. I think that’s a really interesting way to test your creativity. You always design with certain parameters in mind, and that’s the parameter I choose to design from. You have a set of objects or you have access to certain materials. I can’t afford a lot of materials I’d eventually maybe want to use. So I’d ask myself: What do I have? What can I get? What can I do? It became this challenge. There is also the idea of giving materials a second chance, or seeing potential in things that get overlooked, rooting for the underdog. Going to those construction places or hardware or junkyards is thrilling.
I like those dirty environments. It’s like when you’re a kid and you roll around in the dirt and find twigs. It’s very childlike, in a way. It’s a time when things are genderless—rolling around and getting dirty. Everyone is equal. I’ve made friends with a lot of the men from these places.
Talk to me about the importance of craft in your design, both in terms of the process and the outcome.
I don’t have any real formal training. I studied something totally different—I went to school for film and production design, which is also very hands-on and concept-based. But as far as working with materials, it’s just about exploring, pushing that creativity, or finding the path of least resistance to make something happen. That’s where a lot of my creative energy lives: in figuring things out or just trying to. Some things don’t work; some things work very well. I like putting emphasis on the creative process, rather than the final object, because that allows me to work with a lot of different objects and a lot of different genres and disciplines. This idea of concept-based work, and the importance of process, can be applied to virtually anything.
Everything you make feels simultaneously bold and simple. It walks a line, especially Love Always.
The idea for this set was to incorporate that as part of my practice. I’m also expanding into interior design. This relates to my set design background, so when it’s time to show something, that’s very much in my mind: how you display, how you travel the space, how it tells a story or gives a feeling. It’s almost as if that’s always going to happen. Another idea that was in mind for the MCAD show: because the show was behind glass, I kind of wanted it to feel like window-shopping. Now downtown Miami is rundown and it’s going through a revival, but it had a golden era of boutiques and design stores and department stores that were very luxurious. Being in that historic building, I thought that was an interesting homage.