For enquiries relating to hiring works from the LUX collection please see: lux.org.uk/artist/ruth-maclennan
“Ruth Maclennan has developed a fascinating cinematic aesthetic of empathy that is characterised by respectful distance. In her hands the private celebration becomes a celebration of the cinematic senses.”
Andrea Domesle, director of videocity.bs
Ruth Maclennan is an artist based in London and the north Highlands of Scotland. Her art practice includes films, video installations, photographs, performances, writing, drawing and interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects. Since April 2020, Maclennan has contributed to the international collective art project, The Crown Letter, initiated by artist Natacha Nisic. The Crown Letter is produced online by the artists and has also exhibited in physical venues from the Bienal Sur in Cordoba Argentina to Photo+ in Kyoto, Japan.
Ruth navigates a territory between fiction and documentary, using her encounters with a place as a starting point to explore overlooked moments and stories that might reveal the dislocation of the present, and the psychic, physical and political effects of rapid change.
For many years Maclennan has been engaged in interdisciplinary studies of experiences of climate heating and geopolitics, with a focus on the Russian Arctic. Her films and photographs explore how the climate emergency has irrevocably transformed experiences of place and landscape – both for the inhabitants, and as representation.
In 2019, at the opening to her solo exhibition Icebreaker Dreaming, a film of a Russian nuclear icebreaker was projected on to the side of Pushkin House in central London, making visible the regular but disavowed journeys that bring Russian fossil fuels to western European cities. The exhibition represented a little corner of the Russian arctic in central London, bringing together a major body of new works on the environmental, human and more-than-human histories and present of the Russian arctic. A series of talks and performances expanded on these themes.
Maclennan’s film, Treeline (2021) was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Forestry England to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. It was compiled from footage of forests submitted by people around the world in response to an open call. It was selected and exhibited by the Whitechapel Gallery for Artists’ Film International 2022 and is touring internationally
Maclennan exhibits widely internationally, in exhibitions and film festivals, and her work is held in public and private collections. She is known for her films set in post-Soviet countries, including Call of North, Hero City and Cloudberries, filmed in the Russian Arctic (London International Film Festival), Theodosia filmed in Crimea, Ukraine, a year before its annexation by Russia, and Capital filmed in Kazakhstan. Anarcadia, (solo, FVU/John Hansard Gallery, Castlefield, Ffotogallery, Stills), Terrapolis, (French School, Athens), The Body. The Ruin. (Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne). She has a PhD from the Royal College of Art and is Research Associate at Scott Polar Institute, University of Cambridge. She teaches moving image at Central Saint Martins and lectures internationally. She also mentors artists and acts as a consultant on creative projects.
While studying Russian in Moscow in 1989-90 Ruth Maclennan first became excited by the conceptual and performance art she saw in squatted Baroque studios and unofficial public spaces. She later trained as a sculptor in Edinburgh, and at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin she started making videos. For two years, she was a member of the artist group, Szuper Gallery writing and performing 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 in 2000. There she made her first videos in the Dialogues series that play with the form of the video loop. The films draw on the clichés of intimate relationships and business euphemism in dark, cage-like scenarios. The protagonists are taken over by the alienating, banal language, and trapped by the camera which imperceptibly and relentlessly directs their interactions. The role of the camera as an interlocutor with responsibilities, continues to be important in Maclennan’s work.
While at Goldsmiths with artist Volker Eichelmann, Maclennan created the influential bookwork, Style/Substance—The MaxMara Coat Project, that explored the value of a fashionable coat and the circulation of ideas and images. Soon after Maclennan was awarded a Leverhulme artist’s residency in the Archives at the London School of Economics, which marked the beginning of her long-term interest in archives and where she was able to study an institution and its archives. This 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), and the two-channel video projection, Satellite Contact.
Maclennan was artist-in-residence in the BIOS Research Centre at LSE with Professor Nikolas Rose, where she devised and curated the exhibition and series of debates on representations of the mind and brain in art, science and social science, with Richard Wentworth, Susan Hiller, Richard Gregory, Christopher Frith and others, supported by Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England. She was awarded a Cochemé fellowship at Byam Shaw School of Art (CSM) where she devised the collaborative and participatory art project, Archway Polytechnic, funded by a project grant from Arts Council England. Archway Polytechnic unfolded over several years in collaboration with AIRstudio, with artists Uriel Orlow, Mikhail Karikis and Eva Weaver, Marcia Farquhar, Richard Wentworth, Roman Vasseur, Eva Weinmayr, and others. Other projects include commissions for the Arts Catalyst (Interspecies, Second International Artists’ Air Show), Central Asian Project with Cornerhouse, SPACE, Asia Art+ and British Council Kazakhstan. With a Joanna Drew Travel Award Maclennan travelled to Odessa and Crimea, Ukraine, in 2012 to make the works for her solo exhibition The faces they have vanished.