Biography - Ruth Maclennan

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photograph by Anna Hart
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).

Curriculum Vitae

Lives in London. UK and US citizen.

Solo exhibitions

2010Anarcadia co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and John Hansard Gallery, John Hansard Gallery, November 9 to January 8 2010; tours to Ffoto Gallery, Cardiff, and Stills, Edinburgh, and Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, 2011)
We need to talk about the future ICIA, University of Bath
Capital solo programme of single screen works, Ritzy Cinema, (July 8th)

2009Dialogue #5 (It’s not your problem) Archway Polytechnic solo exhibition of video installation, and performance, Archway, London
Solo Film screening, Club Apshu, Moscow

Selected exhibitions and projects

2010We are all Metadata University of Westminster Gallery, Portland Place, London, catalogue
Hide performance and publication by Archway Polytechnic

2009Interspecies symposium and exhibition, Arts Catalyst, A Foundation, London
Interspecies Cornerhouse, Manchester

2008Zoo Art Fair Projects and Collaborations curated by Film and Video Umbrella
Boom-Boom: 4th Bishkek International Contemporary Art Exhibition Kyrgyzstan
/seconds issue 9: vanishing point, the vicious and virtuous circle

2007 - ongoingPolytechnical Institute for the Study of the Expanding Field of Radical Urban Life art project sited in Archway, London. Curatorial project includes artists Mikhail Karikis and Eva Weaver, Uriel Orlow, Ruth Maclennan, Richard Wentworth, Eva Weinmayr, Marcia Farquhar and Roman Vasseur. (publication and project website:

2007The Fellows Byam Shaw School of Art, Central Saint Martins
Transmission The Arts Gallery, University of the Arts, London
Second International Artists’ Air Show The Arts’ Catalyst, Fly Past performance
We saw it—Like a flash on permanent exhibition in Medecine Now Wellcome Collection
Central Asian Project Cornerhouse, Manchester; Space, London
New York Underground Film Festival (and 2006)

2006New Artists’ Video from London curated by Lucy Reynolds, Miss China Beauty Room, Paris
Solo exhibition, Central Exhibition Hall, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Slideshow The City Gallery, Leicester

2005The Body.The Ruin. Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne, (November) (catalogue)
OverAwe, Ruth Maclennan, Sarah Dobai, Ester Partegàs, Foxy Production, (October)
Prog:me, International Festival of artists’ film and video, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
State of Mind, debates and exhibition, London School of Economics (April); curator and artist

2004definitively provisional, Whitechapel Project Space; APPENDIKS in Copenhagen

2003House of Science and Film, film festival, Kino Central, Berlin, British Council
Coming Out – Introducing United Net-Works, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, exhibition and mobile archive, artists’ and curators’ workshop
Four Plus: Writing DNA, The Wellcome Trust, commission and exhibition, (publication)
Contemporary Video Works from Britain, Pántlika Borház, Budapest
Critical Home Video, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand; and
Artspace, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada (catalogue)

2002Potential: ongoing archive, TENT, Centre for Visual Arts, Rotterdam (book)
Potential: ongoing archive, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton
Break In Theatre 3, Nadiff, Shibuya, Japan (catalogue)

2001 The Archives Project: Part 1, British Library of Political and Economic Science, LSE
Televisions, [Szuper Gallery*], Kunsthalle, Vienna
Dream Operator: untimely narrations, video screening at Sparrwasser HQ, Berlin
A Project, Milch, London
* member of artist group Szuper Gallery (1998-2000)

2000 NR, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Event 5 – Paradise 0, Uppsala International Biennale, Sweden
Without Day, [Szuper Gallery] Edinburgh City Arts’ Centre

1999Crash! [Szuper Gallery], ICA, London (catalogue)
Limit Less, [Szuper Gallery], Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna
Dial M for..., [Szuper Gallery], Kunstverein, Munich (catalogue)

Awards, commissions and residencies

2009 - 10Production award, for Anarcadia filmed in Kazakhstan, June 2010 co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella with John Hansard Gallery, Southampton. Additional support from Stills Gallery, Ffoto Gallery Cardiff and Henry Moore Foundation.

2008 - 09The Arts Catalyst commission for two new video works for exhibition at Cornerhouse, Manchester and A Foundation, London.

2008Research and Development award for Western Film and Video Umbrella and John Hansard Gallery
AHDS selects and archives my complete videos (1998-2008)

2007 - 08Arts Council England Grant for the Arts Award to develop and produce art project Polytechnical Institute for the Study of the Expanding Field of Radical Urban Life, in association with AIR at Byam Shaw School of Art, University of the Arts, London.

2007Artist’s Fellowship, Byam Shaw, University of the Arts, London. Cochemé Foundation.

2006 - 07Delfina Trust Studio award.
Central Asia Project: two British Council sponsored visits to Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan to make video and photographic work. Almaty Conference, 3/06; exhibiton 9/06.

2004 - 05Artist in Residence at BIOS centre, the London School of Economics and Political Science; conceived and co-curated project: State of Mind (exhibition and series of debates: including Richard Wentworth, Susan Hiller, Rod Dickinson, Uriel Orlow, Richard Gregory and others; supported by the Wellcome Trust and the Arts Council, England.

2004Double-screen video installation, Satellite Contact, poster, and book, with Uriel Orlow (see major publications), commission from School of Advanced Study and The National Archives

2003Video works, We saw it –Like a Flash, and Drosophila, using BBC footage of science programmes from 1954-2003, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust

2001 - 02Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the London School of Economics and Political Science: solo exhibition; conceived and organised Out of the Archive: a series of artists’ talks and screenings on the archive in contemporary art practice with Volker Eichelmann, Richard Wentworth, David Mabb, Monica Ross, and Patrick Keiller.


1998 - 2000Goldsmiths’ College, London, MA Fine Art

1991 - 95Edinburgh College of Art, BA (Hons), Sculpture and Drawing

1993 - 94Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, Germany

1987 - 91Trinity College, Cambridge University, MA (Hons) Russian and French

1989 - 1990

Maurice Thorèse Institute of Foreign Languages, Moscow, USSR

Major publications: bookworks, catalogues, articles

We are all Metadata, ed. Marquard Smith, University of Westminster, 2010

Antennae, journal devoted to Interspecies exhibition, article by Helen Macdonald on my work. (June 21st 2010)

I do, I undo, I redo, Finn Fordham, Oxford, 2009 (original artwork for bookcover).

Whittakers Almanac 2007 and 2008, essays on the year in visual arts, published by A & C Black.

Polytechnical Institute for the Study of the Expanding Field of Radical Urban Life — a Manifesto, bookwork published by AIR, 2007.

Lots of Fun at Finnegan’s Wake, Finn Fordham, Oxford, 2007 (original artwork for bookcover)

Ghosting, The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video, ed. Jane Connarty and Josephine Lanyon, Picture This, 2006.

Magic Moments, ed. Anna Harding, conversation with Richard Wentworth on play, Black Dog, 2006.

The Body.The Ruin. Bridget Crone, Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne, 2005.

Re: the archive, the image, and the very dead sheep, Ruth Maclennan and Uriel Orlow, Double Agents: Central St Martins; SAS and TNA, London, November 2004.

‘We saw it — Like a Flash’, feature on my research in TV archives, for Mute magazine, # 27, winter 2004.

Corporate Mentality, Aleksandra Mir, Lukas and Sternberg, New York and Berlin, 2003; includes introduction to The MaxMara Coat Project and extract from book (see below).

Building the BBC: A Return to Form, Nicola Jackson, BBC, London, 2003.

‘Proposal for a new industrial psychology in practice’, artist’s project in The Office of Utopic Procedures, editor Bernard Sachs, Westspace Projects, Melbourne, 2002.

Potential: ongoing archive, exhibition catalogue, edited by Anna Harding, includes images and poster from ‘The Archives Project — Part 1’, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton; TENT, Rotterdam 2002.

The Archives Project — Part 1, poster edition, London School of Economics, 2001.

‘Stella in the Cellar’, short story, Black Diamond magazine, Liverpool, 2001.

Style/Substance — The MaxMara Coat Project, Ruth Maclennan and Volker Eichelmann, 1999.

Crash! exhibition catalogue, ICA, London, 1999.

Video Biennale, Geneva, catalogue, introduction to Szuper Gallery by Emma Dexter.

Dial M for..., exhibition catalogue, ed. Dirk Snauwaert, Kunstverein, Munich, 1999.

Szuper Gallery, Szuper Editions, artist’s book for exhibition at 30 Underwood Street Gallery, 1998.

Art Transpennine ’98, exhibition catalogue, 1998.

Soundings, exhibition catalogue, Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, 1996.

From a Record of Lives — Wiesbaden, 10 screen prints, edition of 100, 1996

Conferences, public lectures, radio

2010We need to talk about the future, ICIA Bath, conversation with Professor Victor Seidler, November 17
Anarcadia, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, conversation with Owen Hatherley, December 9.

2009She’s normal. She’s an artist, artist’s talk at LSE
Trialogue, conversation with Janice Kerbel and Verina Gfader, Event Gallery
Unpacking Archway Polytechnic in a Suitcase, performance lecture at The Eagle Document, symposium, Stephen Lawrence Gallery

2008AIRtalk, Byam Shaw School of Art at Central Saint Martins

2007Tate Britain, The Archival Impulse, symposium; discussion with Uriel Orlow on our works on the archive
Seeing Old and New, lecture, Manchester Art Gallery and Cornerhouse, Manchester.
Central Asian Project: panel discussion, webcast

2006Central Asian Project, Conference and workshops hosted by British Council, Kazakhstan

2005State of Mind, curated and organized series of five debates at the London School of Economics.
Consuming Mind: Marketing Minds for Pleasure and Profit, debate with Professors Nikolas Rose, and Judith Williamson, State of Mind series, 12 May BBC Radio Four, ‘Start the Week’ 3 May 2005
West End, BBC Russian Service (3 programmes)

2004Unleashing the Archive, Senate House, London University
Friends of Art, ELIA conference, Lucerne, with Uriel Orlow and Double agents at Central St Martins School of Art & Design

2003Lecture on The Office at the Photographers Gallery, London

2002Potential: ongoing archive symposium alongside exhibition, John Hansard Gallery
Out of the Archives: lecture at the Womens’ Library, London

Teaching (2003 - 2010)

2010School of Advanced Study, University of London, Summer School: Memory, Empire and Technology, 29 June-3rd July: lecture and peformance workshop on Archway Polytechnic London Metropolitan University, Art in London course, lecturing on contemporary art.
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, visiting lecturer on MA Fine Art.
Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII), Glasgow University, Lectures and seminars on the archive in contemporary art, looking at my and other artists’ work relating to archives (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010), exploring the theoretical and historical context and implications of this work.

2007 - 09Associate lecturer, Department of the Built Environment, Architecture Post-Graduate Diploma Studio 2. Devising project for studio, based on my own art project Archway Polytechnic, together with architecture lecturer Anna Hart. Delivering tutorials, seminars, lectures and critiques to post-graduate architecture students. Helping students develop their own brief, portfolio and project for exhibition and exam. Devising and leading field trip to Moscow to explore constructivist housing experiments and develop projects on the domestic.

2007Fellow, Byam Shaw School of Art, research and teaching on MA and PGdip

1999 - 2010Associate lecturer in Fine Art, teaching undergraduates and postgraduate students, lecturing on own work and contemporary art, at art colleges across Britain including: Central St Martins College of Art & Design, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Bournemouth College of Art and Design, Winchester School of Art, Camberwell College of Art and Edinburgh College of Art.

2006Associate lecturer Greenwich University, Film and Design: practical, theoretically grounded, course to teach students how to make a film, using video cameras, story boards, found footage, sound, and editing software.
Associate lecturer Greenwich University, Art and Context: lectures, seminars, tutorials, written assessments, and site visit to Deerpark Forest in Cornwall for five days.

3.08.2005South London Gallery, Summer Daze children’s workshop, ‘Have you met my hat?’

2002 - 2003Visiting Lecturer in film and 20th Century art history, Media Studies department, London College of Communications, University of the Arts. I devised, ran and assessed lecture and seminar series on European Avant-Garde art, literature and film (1910-1939) and a separate course on Film and Narrative.

Selected Reviews and Articles

‘Some notes on Ruth Maclennan’s Three Short Films on Hawks and Men’, Helen Macdonald, Antennae, 2010
‘Central Asian Project’, Gabriel Coxhead, Time Out, March 2007
‘Archives’, Stephen Bury, review of Re:, Art Monthly no. 285, April 2005
‘Mr. Smith goes to…the Archive’, Stephen Smith, New Statesman, 25 February, 2002
‘Winter Agglutinates at Gallery 291’, Lisa Prior, Flash Art, January 2001
‘Designer coat to swap — style substance’, Alexandra Bradley, Dutch magazine, March 2000
‘Crash!’ reviews: The Guardian, The Times, Blueprint, Time Out, Artists’ Newsletter, Mute, Art Monthly
‘Bibliomania and a Coat’, Cathy Courtney, Art Monthly, November 1999
‘Dial M for...’, Kunstforum, September 1999
‘Mad Max’, The Guardian, Alison Smith, 13/8/1999
‘Szuper Gallery’, Matthew Higgs, Art Monthly, 7-8/1998