The Tale Of The Slave


A series of large-scale, intricately-worked drawings which examined the concept of liberty. Studying a number of American moral and political philosophers, Ruffo’s aim was to investigate ideological structures of thought that have influenced politicians in the United States from the 1970s onwards. Concentrating on John Rawls’ and Robert Nozick’s theories relating to freedom, the artist considered the idea of true freedom and the role that individual liberty might play within this.

In his seminal work,  A n a r c h y,   S t a t e   a n d   U t o p i a  ( 1 9 7 4 ),  Nozick attacks Rawls’ Theory of Justice (1971), in which Rawls proposes a system where the fair distribution of resources will ultimately benefit the disadvantaged sections of society. Nozick conversely argues in favour of a minimalist state, and ultimately questions whether it is ever fair to take something from one individual and give it to another. In order to highlight and further consider Nozick’s arguments, Ruffo has focused on a section of the text entitled  ‘T h e   T a l e   o f   t h e   S l a v e ’.  The ‘Tale’ comprises nine passages that propose various cases of slavery, through which Nozick essentially contends that taxation is itself a form of enslavement, and that subsequently modern democratic states are fundamentally slave states.

In response to Nozick’s ‘Tale’, and due to the implicit connection that Ruffo sees between the politics of the mid-19th century and those of today, he created nine finely-detailed pencil drawings appropriated from the work of 19th century satirical draftsmen. Politicians who held conflicting policies and beliefs are depicted in caricature, assuming numerous comical postures. In direct dialogue with these images, Nozick’s nine sentences appear upon the drawings, delicately cut out, raised above the surface of the work and secured with pins, creating a subtle optical illusion as the drawings oscillate between two and three dimensions. Ruffo’s engagement with Nozick’s text forms part of his ongoing investigation into a wide range of social, moral and political debates. Since 2008, his work has focused on concepts of freedom, as seen in his  I s a i a h   B e r l i n  (2009-10) series, in which large portraits of the liberal scholar and philosopher were drawn over old maps.

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