Ruth Proctor works across a number of mediums – sculpture, installation, performance, video, 16mm film and works on paper. Simultaneously playing with a physical and conceptual connection to the use of material, gesture and form, Proctor’s works often examine notions of luck and failure positioned within the context of potential and chance.
Common to all her artworks are themes of time and space. Proctor trained as an ice-skater, and this can be sensed in the works she now creates: of performance and spectacle, action and reaction, repetition and the capturing of the fleeting moment.
Beyond the gallery, Ruth’s previous works have been created in sites as diverse as car parks, sports pitches and ice rinks. Often playing with the potency of the temporary event she positions objects, ideas and figures in spaces to create new relationships between audience and performer.
In the pictures:
Ruth Proctor, Philosophical Deportment still, 2013
NORMA MANGIONE Viewing your work, one is struck by your obvious interest in theatrical performance and staging. What aspects of stagecraft or of theatre in general do you find most intriguing?
RUTH PROCTOR I studied theatre, looking at Brecht. Although rehearsed and practiced, theatre can never be exactly the same in each performance. I like the idea of a repetition that can never be exact. There is a relationship between the audience and the performer that I find interesting and it is this element that is a constant within my practice. Sight lines, staging, rehearsal and tableaux are all theatrical constructs that I also think about in my work, I use them to create a visual coherence within a work.
N M It seems that in your performance there is a particular interest in the relationship between the body and space.
R P This interest partly comes from having trained as an ice skater for a large part of my life and the experience of performing in shows and competitions. It is interesting how the body can command the attention of an audience through movement and form, either in a large empty arena or its complete opposite. I am interested in the relationship between the figure in space and the object in space, plus movement and performance and how this can be interpreted.
N M Your films are all shot in 16mm. You seem to treat the material you film as though it were a sort of malleable, utilitarian accessory to the work you’re creating. Would you agree?
R P I like to work in a hands-on way, and 16mm film is a physical medium to work with; editing by hand and making decisions by eye, almost like with a drawing or painting, where you can take bits away and add other parts, it’s never fixed and even when the film is finished and is being projected, the prints get scratched and worn and add character of their own to the film. The work is constantly shifting. It also depends on the nature of the idea and whether or not using 16mm film fits the idea. I would use other formats depending on their qualities and the requirements of the work. This is the same for my sculptures, installations, paintings and drawings: for all my work, the medium depends on the best way to make my ideas work.
N M Who are the artists that have most influenced your work?
R P My inspiration comes from many sources. I am always inspired by artists such as Liubov’ Popova and the composer John Cage. As well as dance artists and performers such as Yvonne Rainer, Michael Clark and Merce Cunningham. I have been looking back at films such as Last year at Marienbad by Resnais, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée as well as Russian Constructivist film and dance set pieces of Busby Berkeley.
In the pictures: Ruth Proctor, If The Sky Falls, 2012
Chris Fite-Wassilak, Ruth Proctor: Sympathetic Magic, 2015
At the top it’s a different story.
At first we see nothing: a creased blank sheet of paper, and next to it an evenly grey photograph that seems to have been an accident of timing or exposure.
Relax. We’re going to fall backwards.
Earlier in the day, Ruth Proctor sits down with a pad of paper and a pen, hurriedly writing down some of her memories and impressions from learning from a stunt instructor how to fall from a scaffold tower. She does not write of the fall itself, landing safely in a large foam bed, but of the sensory readying for that act: ‘No one moves until this moment…No, not ready. No one jumps. It’s too loud to hear anything else. Just seeing and communicating with the body.’ After filling a page of the notepad with looped blue writing, she immediately pulls out an ink eraser and proceeds to rub out any trace of the writing above.
Later in the day, Proctor is sitting outside, pointing her camera phone at the sky. The cloud coverage is complete. A solar eclipse is happening for just over four hours, technically visible in our part of the world, so she attempts to film it. A passer by approaches: ‘Can you see anything?’ ‘No, I’m just pretending to film something,’ Proctor replies, and continues filming. In the end, a representative still taken from the video is a nondescript, impenetrable, solid grey.
Both the empty photo and sheet of paper evidence a particular kind of disappearing trick. Each provides documentation of Proctor’s actions; admittedly, both are almost entirely useless as documents, stubbornly unwilling to fully disclose their sources. But their reticence and their continued material existence are still telling – they are not simply exercises in futility, and still contain some sort of trail, however scant. A crumpled corner, the indent of the pen, or a few words of a hint of what lies behind the grey curtain. Proctor’s actions and performances are often fragile, a momentary push or trigger, as if staging a dare. We find common elements drifting through her work: wind, water, smoke, light; all are used as intangible, moving, quickly dispersed actors in temporarily staged instances. These emerge, as if by accident, from her actual work: an extended and continual set of searching, trying, failing, trying something else, and happy half-accidents.