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Ruth Maclennan

PhD Work

From the White Sea to the North Sea: journeys in film, writing and ecological thought

In the face of climate change, what can art do?  The question is both practical and ethical: a question of art's efficacy, its ways of working, and its uses to audiences. These intertwined questions are articulated in writing and film-making, both of which draw on an empirical method, alongside research into ethics, ecology, film history, the politics of climate change, and critiques of capitalism.  

I seek to represent the consequences of climate change as they are experienced by the inhabitants of the North of Scotland and Arctic Russia. Through writing and film I document and interpret changing relationships with the sea and the land, thus bringing to light the interplay of climate change with history and memory, and with the social, economic, environmental and political forces that are shaping places and lives.       

One of the research methods of this PhD is a form of fieldwork, consisting of recorded interviews and informal encounters, filming and note taking, which form the source material for a multi-vocal approach to writing and filmmaking.  

The written thesis consists of narrations of journeys, both actual and theoretical. I tell stories of journeys to the White Sea in northeastern Russia, and to the north Highlands and islands of Scotland, where the political, economic and environmental upheavals are emblematic of a geopolitical shift north. I examine how ideas of North and of the sea, of nature and landscape, contained in films, oral histories, myths and writings, contribute to contemporary perceptions.  These ideas are analysed further through Alexander Dovzhenko’s film Aerograd, and Michael Powell’s The Edge of the World

The section, Journeys into Theory, takes up questions raised by the other two sections, and proposes a speculative investigation of ethics, politics and ecology and what they mean for contemporary moving image art practice, through readings of Hannah Arendt, Félix Guattari, Bruno Latour, and others.

The two bodies of film works are shot in Northern Russia, and during an expedition to the Northern Isles with Cape Farewell. Concomitantly with the first person written narrative, they investigate the camera as a participant-observer, and the implied presence of a future audience. The familiar trope of anthropology whereby the observer influences what is observed is explored here within the context of film. If the camera produces an observer and an observed, what new potentialities are there for addressing an audience? 

Both the written and film works document disappearance: of individuals and their memories, of species, of ecosystems, of ways of life, of imagined worlds, and of entire societies as well as the vertiginous fear of the future annihilation of human civilisation. This documentation of disappearance is examined and articulated as a distinct response to an ethical and ecological imperative.  Meanwhile, the works propose to speak to a future audience––to speak not to the world as it is but as it could become.


  • PhD


    School of Humanities



  • Ruth Maclennan’s work begins with an encounter with a place – a London tower block, a futuristic capital city in Kazakhstan, a ruined railway station in a desert, a fishing boat off the coast of Scotland. She combines a rigorous and experimental interrogation of the possibilities and power of moving images in the world today, with a focus on overlooked moments, material remains and fragments of stories that reveal unresolved conflict. For example for her collaborative art project Polytechnical Institute for the Study of the Expanding Field of Radical Urban Life she created a ‘promenade performance’ video in the streets of London (Dialogue #5 (It’s not your problem), and a twelve hour live web-streamed video performance (Hide), later edited into a bookwork.

    Ruth Maclennan’s work includes video installations, photography, bookworks, performance, interdisciplinary, collaborative and curatorial projects. She is completing an AHRC-funded PhD by practice at the Royal College of Art, in Fine Art,  Photography, on experiences of climate change in northern Russia and Scotland, following her expeditions to the White Sea and on Sea Change with Cape Farewell. Maclennan exhibits in Europe, USA, Central Asia, and recently in Korea, Taiwan and Ireland. Her film, Call of North, filmed in the Russian Arctic, premiered at 58th LIFF. Maclennan has a Masters in Fine Art (Goldsmiths), in Modern Languages (Cambridge), and a BA (Hons) in Sculpture and Drawing from Edinburgh College of Art.  Solo exhibitions  include Anarcadia at John Hansard Gallery, Ffotogallery, Castlefield, and  Stills; ICIA, Bath, and solo screenings at ICA, Ritzy Cinema, Edinburgh Film Festival, Alchemy Moving Image Festival and Loop, Barcelona. Group shows include: Terrapolis, Whitechapel, Athens; Interspecies, Arts Catalyst, Central Asian Project Cornerhouse, Space. Awards include Joanna Drew, FVU production award, Cochemé Fellowship at Central Saint Martins, Leverhulme artist’s residency, Wellcome Trust People's Award for State of Mind, at the LSE, and ACE awards. Her work is distributed by LUX. Other projects: Essex Road II, Unannounced Acts of Publicness, AIR; and The Archives Project, at LSE London; Archway Polytechnic, Her work is in Wellcome Collection and Centre Pasqu’Art, Biel, and private collections. Books include Anarcadia, FVU/JHG; Hide, AIR; Re: the Archive, the Image, and the Very Dead Sheep, with U. Orlow.
  • Degrees

  • MA Fine Art, Goldsmiths College, 2000; BA Fine Art, Edinburgh College of Art, 1995; MA (Hons) Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge University, 1991
  • Experience

  • Director, Northlands Glass, 2014-ongoing
  • Exhibitions

  • Terrapolis, French School at Athens, curated by Whitechapel Gallery and Neon Gallery, Athens, 2015; Zigni, film commission for Essex Road II, Tintype Gallery, 2015; Belfast Film Festival, ‘Nostalgia for a Future Territory’ programme, 2015 ; Slender Human Islands, performance commission, Granary Square, London, for Unannounced Acts of Publicness, AIR at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, 2015 ; City Wise and the Nose, Reading Aloud performance, Tintype Gallery, 2015; Selective Memory: Artists and the Archive, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork, Ireland, 2014; 58th BFI London Film Festival, premiere of Call of North, 2014; II. International Conference Art and Nature, Sao Paolo University, 2014; On Crimea, Screening and conversation with Neal Ascherson and Margarita Gluzberg, ICA, 2014;; The Faces They Have Vanished, solo exhibition, ICIA, Bath, 2013–14; Anarcadia, screening and book launch, Whitechapel Gallery, 2012; /seconds exhibition, curated by Peter Lewis, Sharjah Art Foundation, 2014; Anarcadia, solo exhibitions, Ffoto Gallery, Cardiff; Stills, Edinburgh; Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, 2010–11; Hide, 12 hour video screening and book launch, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, 2011; Anarcadia, at Loop Film Festival, Barcelona, 2011; Anarcadia and Capital, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Solo film programme, Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2011; We need to talk about the future, (solo) ICIA, University of Bath, 2010
  • Awards

  • Lighthouse Foundation, artist's residency, Chupa, Karelia, Russia; Joanna Drew Travel Bursary; Delfina Studio Award; Leverhulme artist in residence, London School of Economics; Wellcome Trust People's award, for project, State of Mind, at BIOS, LSE; Cochemé Fellowship, Central Saint Martins; Wellcome Trust commission, 'We saw it - Like a Flash', purchased for Wellcome Collection; Commission from The National Archives and the School of Advanced Study, for film 'Satellite Contact' and bookwork, 'Re: The Archive, the Image, and the Very Dead Sheep.' with uriel Orlow, 2004; Creative Scotland funded Sea Change Expedition, and commission for Cape Farewell, 2013-4; Wellcome Trust People's Award for 'State of Mind' project, BIOS, London School of Economics; Leverhulme Artist in Residence, LSE Archives.
  • Conferences

  • 'True North', artist's residency and conference presentation, Timespan, Scotland, 2015; ‘The Enchanted Archive’, at Turn to the Archive, Royal College of Art, 2015; ‘Call to Action’, Why Would I Lie?, Royal College of Art, 2015; ; ‘Artists’ Film and Its Contexts’, 57th BFI London Film Festival, 2014; ‘White Noise on the White Sea,’ Reading and Exhibiting Nature conference, University of Westminster, 2014; ; Documentation and the Future of Memory, York St John University; Archway Polytechnic in a Suitcase, at JISC-Kultivate Archiving and Curation Workshop, 2011; Tate Britain, The Archival Impulse, symposium, November 2007;; State 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, 2005; ; Unleashing the Archive, with Uriel Orlow, Senate House, London University, 2004
  • Publications

  • Why Would I Lie? RCA Research Biennial Publication, 2015; Selective Memory: Artists and the Archive, ed. C. Clarke, O. Murphy, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork; ; Speculative Strategies In Interdisciplinary Arts Practice. Edited by Jane Calow, Daniel Hinchcliffe and Laura Mansfield; ICIA, 2014; The Crimea of Russia’s Imagination, BBC website, 18th March, 2014; All This Stuff: Archiving the Artist, eds. Judy Vaknin; Hide edited by Anna Hart and Ruth Maclennan, AIR, Central Saint Martins, 2011; Postscript (2012) and Reflections on the City from a post-flâneur, in Material Conditions, Proboscis, 2011; ; Anarcadia: Ruth Maclennan, eds.S. Bode and N. Ernst, John Hansard Gallery/Film and Video Umbrella, 2011; We are all Metadata, ed. Marquard Smith, University of Westminster, 2010; ; Antennae, journal devoted to Interspecies exhibition, ‘Three Short Films on Hawks and Men,’ Helen Macdonald. (June 21st 2010); 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, Ruth Maclennan, bookwork published by AIR, Byam Shaw School of Art at Central Saint Martins, London 2007;; Ghosting, The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video, ed. Jane Connarty and Josephine Lanyon, Picture This, 2006.; Re: the archive, the image, and the very dead sheep, Ruth Maclennan and Uriel Orlow, Double Agents: Central St Martins; School of Advanced Studies, and The National Archives, London, 2004. ; Potential: ongoing archive, exhibition catalogue, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton; TENT, Rotterdam 2002. ; Style/Substance—The MaxMara Coat Project, bookwork by Ruth Maclennan and Volker Eichelmann, MaxMara, 1999.