© 2021 Caitlin Rueter

How To Be

How To Be is a series of exercises that revisit and reimagine early 19th century educational primers for “young ladies.” Rueter playfully contemplates ways of being and how history refigures and repeats expectations of how to be.

In Lesson I: Ablutions Rueter pairs self-portrait photographs with illustrations of period hair arrangements and headdresses.

Lesson II: Moral Deportment is a ten-channel video installation depicting ten New York-based women artists.* Rueter reads to each a passage from a young ladies’ manual that concerns one of ten, “moral properties called for in the daily conduct and habitual deportment of young ladies”: piety, integrity, fortitude, charity, obedience, consideration, sincerity, prudence, activity and cheerfulness. The footage from these interactions is paired with portraits of girls and women from early 19th century American folk art from which Rueter has extracted the figures and inserted her subjects.

The first two lessons are built on the relationship between the interior and exterior lives of their subjects, here recast as an interplay between aesthetics and virtue.

In Lesson III: The Cabinet Council Rueter captures images of girls’ bedrooms from 1980s and 1990s television shows. She removes the figures from each of the stills and inserts images of objects that she has taken from her own private spaces, blurring the boundary between personal and collective memory.

*The participating artists are damali abrams, Jana Flynn, Suzanne Stroebe, Jess Ramsay, Kyoung Eun Kang, Alexandria Smith, Adrienne Reynolds, Diane Dwyer, Jennifer Dalton and Seyhan Musaoglu.