Skip navigation

Ruth Maclennan

While studying Russian in Moscow in 1989-90 Ruth Maclennan first became interested in the conceptual and performance art she saw there, in squatted Baroque studios and unofficial public spaces. Later, in Berlin at the Hochschule der Künste, she started making videos and writing scripts. For two years, she was a member of the artist group, Szuper Gallery and continued to write and perform with the group. Szuper Gallery described itself as a ‘mutating bureaucracy’, enacting a humourous and sharp critique of the budding relationships between financial institutions and the art world. Szuper Gallery exhibited at the ICA, London, Munich Künstverein, Shedhalle, Zürich and Vienna Kunsthalle. 

Maclennan completed a Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College in 2000. This is when she made her first videos in the Dialogues series that explore dialogue as both a verbal, literary and cinematic form, with Socratic philosophical ambitions. She continues to use and develop the dialogue form throughout her work. While at Goldsmiths, together with artist Volker Eichelmann, Maclennan produced the bookwork, Style/Substance—The MaxMara Coat Project, that explored the value of a fashionable coat and the circulation of ideas and images. Maclennan was awarded a Leverhulme artist’s residency in the Archives at the London School of Economics, which allowed her to study an institution and its archives close up. Here she further explored how spoken language is performed and evolves through use, and the affects of architecture and design on behaviour and produced an important body of video work. Her research into the archive, led to a break-through film commission for the Wellcome Trust, We saw it—Like a Flash, a history of genetics and of television, using BBC archive from the 1950s to the present. Without any commentary, the film reveals how television colludes with science to develop images and narratives that promote a positivist view of the world. Following this research in a television archive, Maclennan collaborated with Uriel Orlow on a commission for the National Archives and the School of Advanced Study. The artists examined the archival as idea and the archive in the landscape, beyond the spaces of archive collections. They produced the bookwork, Re: The Archive, the Image, and the Very Dead Sheep (TNA, and Double Agents, Central Saint Martins School of Art & Design; £10, available to order by email), and the two-channel video projection, Satellite Contact

Landscape and the traces of past actions that lie within it are the focus of the films Capital and Valley of Castles (Hunting Eagles), both filmed in Kazakhstan. They also explore the ambiguous position of the traveller, the encounter with the other and the projection of one terrain onto another. The formation of landscape and the need for ‘wildness’ are further explored in Three Short Films and Harry. Maclennan’s recent film and accompanying body of work, Anarcadia, deepens this examination of landscape and its importance in the invention of identity and the present. Anarcadia features two iconic characters, an archaeologist and a prospector, each projecting desires and experiences on to the desert and seeking to uncover its buried meanings and future possibilities. 

As part of her practice, Maclennan devises curatorial and collaborative art projects to enable new contexts for making, experiencing and questioning art and its relation to other areas of life. For example, her collaborative art project Polytechnical Institute for the Study of the Expanding Field of Radical Urban Life, also known as Archway Polytechnic, is a new form of educational institution; and State of Mind was a residency, group exhibition and series of debates at the London School of Economics, that explored contemporary understandings of the brain in science, art and social science.

Ruth Maclennan’s work is shown internationally in exhibitions and film festivals, and held in public and private collections. Exhibitions include Interspecies, the Arts Catalyst; Central Asian Project, Cornerhouse, and Space, London, touring Central Asia; Migrating Forms and New York Underground Film Festivals; Overawe, Foxy Production, New York; Medicine Now, Wellcome Collection; The Body. The Ruin. Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne; State of Mind, LSE, London. Her work is included in several monographs, including Ghosting, The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video, J. Connarty and J. Lanyon, 2006. Artists’ books include, Re: the archive, the image, and the very dead sheep with Uriel Orlow (London, Double agents: 2004), and Style/Substance—The MaxMara Coat Project with Volker Eichelmann (MaxMara, 1999).