New Zealand artist Ruth Buchanan recognises the exhibition spaces in which she presents her work as powerful systems of social organisation. Firmly rooted in institutional critique, her works interrogate the spatial dynamics of exhibitions through prints, texts, collections of objects, sculptures, films, performances and audio. Her works exist as standalone art objects and also as placeholders or ciphers within extensively researched and codified systems of relationships.
Arising from an interest in the visual language within objects and their particular contexts, Buchanan's works response to the physical or conceptual spaces they occupy. For the work Cast a light across it (2012)—part of her 2012 exhibition Put a curve, an arch right through it at Krome Gallery in Berlin—Buchanan hung a chiffon curtain adjacent to the main window in the gallery space, thus diminishing the natural light source. Another work in the show, Ostensibility (2010) comprised a pair of dark blue coated MDF panels that resembled large tabletops, propped on their sides at an oblique angle. With its durable surface and powder-coated steel legs, the whole piece contained a strong visual reference to institutional furniture. The title seems reflexive, as if Buchanan is challenging or casting doubt on her own methodology. In each of the works, the interplay or gap between what is named and what is seen is emphasised.
Another feature of public exhibition space came under scrutiny in The weather, a building, Buchanan's 2011 project for Tate Modern Live: Push and Pull. For the project, groups of visitors were equipped with iPods loaded with an audio guide narrated by Buchanan herself. The groups' movement around the gallery then became a performative act, making them the focus of attention as their gaze in turn was directed toward specific, normally overlooked, features of the building and to the other visitors. This performative aspect was further signalled by strategic muster points in the exhibition spaces, including balconies looking outside the building, designated chairs on which visitors were to sit, and a platform overlooking the concourse. In various locations, white posters bore texts—'[ Entrance . exposition . characters . ]', or '[ inciting force . rising action . a room . some movements . lights or lighting. ]'—that were specifically related to the guide. The piece acted as a satire of the often prescriptive way that institutions encourage particular responses from the public.
For Never Not a Body, her 2016 exhibition at Hopkinson Mossman in Auckland, Buchanan presented a series of works that derived from the conceptual notion of a 'body'. The artist used Kathy Acker's 1992 essay 'Against Ordinary Language: The Language of the Body' as a starting-point to the investigation. One work in the show, titled Brain Building Body (2015), comprised a set of mind-maps deriving from the three titular words and outlining thought-associations between them, printed on geo-mesh screens suspended like banners across the room. A video in the show, 24Hr Body (2016), featured a looped text in which the word 'body' and measurement values such as minutes and percentages were continually superimposed.
Buchanan graduated with a BFA from Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, in 2002 and received her MA (Fine Art) at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, in 2007. From 2008-9, she was a researcher in fine art at the Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht. Recent projects include works co-commissioned in 2015 by the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane and Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, in co-operation with Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Hamburg. She has had solo presentations at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2014); Grazer Kunstverein (2011); Casco Art Institute, Utrecht (2010); and The Showroom, London (2009). Buchanan has realised performances in numerous contexts including Tate Modern, London; Kunsthaus Bregenz; Frascati Theatre, Amsterdam; and the Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht.
Buchanan currently lives and works in Berlin.
Ruth Buchanan has won the 2018 Walters Prize for her work BAD VISUAL SYSTEMS.
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