Ruth Beale is a London-based artist whose practice focuses on the roles of libraries and archives in the preservation of objects and the dissemination of ideas. How and why do they exist? Who is running them? Who is using them? What is valued and what is overlooked? In her own words:
I have a very open interest in organised culture, the role it plays in society, how we collectively and individually create it. My work is really a process of socialised questioning…. I use collaborative and discursive processes that are often staged (sometimes literally by actors) or more subtly in installations, but also drawing, writing, video and the collection and re-presentation of archival materials. There’s also an element of research – for example, my project Performing Keywords was an attempt to enact a book by cultural theorist Raymond Williams, a pioneer of cultural studies in the 1960s to the 1980s… There are many layers to how the project operated – part of it involved visiting archives in Swansea, and I made drawings of the photocopies I took – but the main outcome was a 30 minute performance with video, sound, props, choreography and a spoken script.
Her recent projects include The Voyage of Nonsuch, a video installation made in collaboration with Karen Mirza that explores how film archives influence our view of cultural history, social space and everyday life (2010); Public Knowledge (2011), a series of events which explored relationships between the social purpose and cultural significance of libraries and archives; and The Alternative School of Economics, a collaborative project with Amy Feneck that developed from their six-month residency at the Working Class Movement Library (2012).
Inspired by the library’s collections on trade union protests and political campaigns by working people, they seek to use historical material on economic and social issues to inform current debate. In line with the library’s ‘homely and egalitarian’ approach, they aim to encourage community groups to participate in their creative projects. One of the more direct outcomes of the residency was a film exploring the relationship between the personal and the political through considering the aims of the library’s founders.
Oh, Zero, One (2011)
In this exhibition, Ruth Beale and her fellow artist Una Knox explored the systems by which we collectively perceive, store and access bodies of knowledge whilst raising specific questions about society's relationship with culture. Ruth’s contribution to the show included a mini-library of Utopian literature and All the Libraries in London, a large text work displaying the names of London’s (approximately 800) publicly accessible libraries, from local authority services to university institutions, specialist and private membership libraries. The sense of the whole, a vast and virtually incomprehensible body of books, is complicated by the fact that her aspiration for comprehensiveness is inherently constrained by publicly available information and library closures. She also produced an audio piece that introduces a dystopian narrative inspired by William Morris’s News from Nowhere, the tale of a visitor to a future pastoral idyll where workers are content and formal education is obsolete. Now from Now is a journey through a fictional out-of-time London where all libraries are closed but intact. The protagonist’s methodical exploration of the boarded-up relics is disrupted by acid trip-outs and sublime moments, conflating the possibilities of mental and social emancipation.
Lindgren & Langlois: The Archive Paradox (2011)
This performance was one of a series of three events at Cubitt Gallery hosted by Ruth Beale that examined the social and cultural significance of libraries and archives as public spaces for the collection, preservation and distribution of knowledge, the other two being an informal evening of film clips exploring the cultural life of the library as foreboding container of knowledge, valued public space and unlikely setting for drama in popular cinema and a panel discussion looking at the importance of libraries and archives – their historical origins, who manages and has access to them and their potential future development.
Lindgren & Langlois: The Archive Paradox is a dramatised exchange of letters between two influential film archivists on opposing sides of a debate between preservation and circulation. Ernest Lindgren, the BFI National Film Archive’s first curator was careful, scientific and restrained by public responsibilities and budgets. He collected film selectively, maintaining a strict policy of non-projection of original prints and pioneering preservation and cataloguing techniques that became the standard internationally. Conversely, Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, collected and saved all the films he could, screening them as widely as possible. Credited with influencing the French New Wave directors, he was known for his all consuming passion for cinema, as well as his individualistic and chaotic style. Based on their real life correspondence, this fictional dialogue re-visits the personal and ideological tensions between Lindgren and Langlois, encouraging debate on what is more important - to preserve for the future or to disseminate in the present.