in conversation with Ruth Broadbent

Can you describe where you are while writing this and what you can see from your window?

A chair next to the hammock in the garden, making the most of the early autumn sunshine. I look up and can see blue sky, encircled by two cherry trees, a horse chestnut and several ash trees, all rustling gently in the breeze. Lower down, our two black and white cats snooze on the grass, surrounded by greenery, including various fruit and veg dotted around in flowerbeds, and in an improvised shed roof salad planter. This patch of outdoors has given me so much over these last few months.

What is your chosen medium for recording your Landlinks work?

I approached Landlinks with an open mind and no set outcome, packing a rucksack of various materials that I thought might come in handy. It ended up being a mixed media work, including drawing, 3D, photography and text.

What and who is the 'driving' force or major influence for your work?

Tricky question! To avoid writing a very long essay on this, I guess I’d have to say a combination of process and ideas, which are both influenced by whatever catches my interest now, and is in turn heavily influenced by my past and also my future hopes. Having grown up surrounded by nature, with lots of time spent in fields and rivers, nature and place has been a constant source of inspiration for my art, as have my studies since. If I had to name any artists, without letting myself think long enough to write a lengthy list, the first two names that spring to mind are Eva Hesse and Tania Kovats. The sheer visual quality and sensitivity to materials and making in their work, and the way in which Kovats approaches the environment, combining both drawing and sculpture, draws me in. When I discovered sculpture, and read books at art college, such as Lucy Lippard’s From the Center and The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, I felt as if I had found home and have never looked back. I have since discovered a world of drawing and sculpture and networks of artists creating in so many overlapping and connected areas, from ‘drawing sculpture’ to walking artists.

4. How important is research and experimentation to your work and can you outline some of your working processes for us?

Over the years, I’ve increasingly found that the process of experimenting and making, together with extensive research, have become inextricably interwoven in my work. I often retrospectively see links to earlier works that weren’t immediately obvious at the time. As I create work, I research in depth, in an endless cycle of thinking, making and staring into space, reflecting. I almost always find myself in a place where I have too many ideas, and competing ideas that together would have a watered down impact. I have to choose to follow through with just one for a more focused work, and can talk myself into convoluted circles until eventually I am driven more by one than the other. The final outcome is the one that gets made, whilst discarded others remain as thoughts, notes and scribbles in my sketchbook or as maquettes. Looking back I can see that an interest in line seems to be in so many of my works, at first sub-consciously, and now highly researched and integral to my current work. An interest in landscape and the environment, as well as issues of society, power, culture and communication, have also recurred in my artwork over the years.

SP 386 389 (2007)

Can you talk a bit about walking and the importance of walking in/to your work?

This is so important to my work. It’s my time and space to absorb, think, wander, process events, and come up with ideas. I love to walk, the slow pace and time to notice details, or just to wander somewhere and sit in a field, or by a river. I have created works through and from walking, or related to a specific walk or location. More recently, my work includes journeys on foot and by bicycle, following tracks and lines in the landscape, and by water.
A Line Across England (2016-2018)

What do you think about when walking?

Everything and anything. My attention is constantly drifting as something catches my eye, and I pause to look closer, or listen. I process what has happened, or might happen, I sometimes forget to think as something captivates me, or a sound puts me on high alert and I’m totally in the moment. My senses are alert when I walk, and I wander between past, present and future.

You are part of the Landlinks project and the synchronised walk that took place in April. We would love to hear your feedback on this networking initiative and your resulting creative response to that walk.

I generally create solitary artworks and rarely collaborate. More recently, I have started to get involved in group projects, including walking art. I’ve found they help me to experiment more and not get too set in my ways. I’ve also really enjoyed discovering the work of others and being part of an international group of artists who share so many interests and concerns. I found juggling the walk instructions, WhatsApp group and creating work on the way, was both challenging and inspiring. I approached it as a group walk and let myself go with the flow, with a certain freedom from pressure in what I created. The pressure came later when I looked at what I had done and my inner critic started loudly commenting! I thought I would create more work than I have after the walk, but despite spending lots of time on various offshoots, they have not been resolved (yet). In a way, the works created on the walk, and immediately after, are the work, and everything since has been overthinking it. Whether or not more creations appear before the exhibition remains to be seen.

You’ve a background that isn’t just about art.  Can you tell us something about it and how this may influence your practice.

I studied Sociology, French and Human Rights, as well as Fine Art, and dabbled in other languages too, then worked for environmental and homelessness organisations. This has had a huge influence on my work, especially in earlier works on communities, communication, individuals and groups, power and identity, environment, and also in taxonomy and how museums and institutions select and display. These issues are subtly embedded in many of my works and are issues that I passionately care about. They don’t shout it out loud, but looking closer, it is central to these works.

Landscape and the environment are both important areas of creative exploration to you. With current concerns about our environment, how do you see your role as one heavily involved in the arts?

The climate crisis has made me reassess my quiet and subtle approach to issues in my artwork. I’ve started to question the relevance of some of my ideas as seeming trivial in the context of so many crises, from political to environmental, and this is affecting which projects I pursue. My artwork is still driven by whatever I want to pursue but whereas previously I would present them without explanation, preferring not to impose a particular way of interpreting them, I am now seeking contexts that situate them within a wider debate to protect our environment and ecosystems, and am making gentle inroads into more overtly sharing my working processes and practice rather than timidly hiding away. I am increasingly incorporating these concerns into project ideas for teaching too.
A Line Across England (2016-2018)

Can you describe your favourite place and why?

Right now, anywhere in water. Lockdown left me craving water. Living in a landlocked area, I have been seeking out the nearest rivers to swim in and hire kayaks and paddleboards for the occasional day out. I dream of swimming in my favourite lake in the Pyrenees and of immersing myself in the sea. Discovering new spots to swim in rivers not too far from home will hopefully sustain me through the coming months. I love the quiet of the river and the different view from the water. A recent swim with a kingfisher keeping me company was totally magical.
An Island Line (2018)

Covid 19 is having a massive impact on so many lives. Are you able to say what effect it is having on your working/creative life and what you have planned once Covid 19 retreats?

Initially I was all over the place with my artwork, with a mix of self-imposed impossible expectations of what I could achieve and a complete blank. It’s taken me a while to work through it, and I’ve reflected a lot on my practice. I used the time at home to redesign my website which has needed a complete overhaul for a long time. This has taken far more hours than I thought as I’ve had to learn how to do it, but it’s finally nearing completion. I also connected with an international group of artists and poets to work alongside an ecological scientist. It’s been great to have science explained in a way that I can relate to as an artist, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads.

Your work often references a ‘place’ and that obviously influences your creative response. Is there a place that means more to you and why? 

Place has been important in so many of my works. When I interviewed people for Identity Cubes I found that place was sometimes more important to me than to interviewees. Possibly due to moving every few years when I was growing up. I feel strong affinities to certain places, some local landscapes, others for their memories and connections. Visiting these places in nature sustains me and gives me energy. I’m fascinated by tracks and lines in the landscape and their history, current use and how they will evolve in the future. Creating artwork from journeys cycling a line of ancient tracks across England, an island line and following a line of five rivers in Germany, has inadvertently taken on a more political and historical context as we sever links with our nearest neighbours, despite having once been linked by land. I am really struggling to accept having my freedom of movement taken away, along with the destruction of so many rights and freedoms that I value. I find myself wanting to highlight our interconnectedness by connecting my lines between England and Europe, and hope that one day these paths of close communication will be restored.


What are you currently reading?

Nicholas Crane’s The Making of the British Landscape, from the Ice Age to the Present, a study of our landscape, its history, ecology and connections to Europe. Also in my book pile is Tim Ingold’s Making. His book Lines, on the anthropological archaeology of the line, is a book I repeatedly return to, and I’ve been wanting to read his other work for a while.

I’ve also been losing myself in fiction and loved the way that Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens transported me to the marshes and to beaches where I could almost feel the sand beneath my feet. It had everything from art, and a close observation of and connection to nature and water, to politics, society and people.

I was given The Familiars by Stacey Hall, a fictional account of the unjust and cruel persecution of women accused of witchcraft. As it was set near Pendle Hill in Lancashire, I was drawn to reading it as this is a hill that I love visiting with its strikingly solid and all-imposing shape and form, its landscape and its history of powerful women with their deep understanding of nature.

Do you consider your work political?

Yes. I am deeply political and my background both academically and career-wise has been politically motivated. These concerns are in many of my works, subtly embedded, but there for the viewer to interpret (or not). To what extent this becomes more overt remains to be seen but it does seem to increasingly moving in that direction as we no longer have the luxury of time.

What are you currently working on?

Alongside overhauling my website, I’m experimenting with creating Ground Interpretations based on my Groundlines journeys, trying different media, from pencils and charcoal to pen and ink. At the moment none feel fully resolved but will keep working on them and see where it leads. I also have some wire and papier mâché works that I started some time ago and left unfinished but am now returning to.

A Line Across England (2016-2018)

In reflecting on your work of the past 5 years, with what are you most pleased?

Over the last five years my work has developed two clear strands of interest: imagined lines and lines in landscape. I’ve delved more and more into the world of line, and it's continuing to lead me to new paths. I feel as if my work is coming together in ways that blend intricately with my life and is leading me to exciting new paths to follow. Connections with networks of other artists are offering new opportunities for dialogue and reflection, and I’ve gradually started to pursue this further too.
Imagined Lines (2017)

What importance do you place on exhibiting your work?

Exhibitions give me the opportunity to look back at a body of work with fresh eyes, move on from it, and use it as a launchpad for the next body of work. A deadline also gets me motivated to complete works too! I find exhibitions a useful part of the cycle of my working process.
Imagined Lines (copper) (2017)

Please pose your own question (you can even answer it if you want to or just leave it open for others to respond)

Is the quiet subtleness of ideas in my artwork enough when we are facing an environmental crisis and so many other crises? I’ve still not resolved this yet. I am passionately political in my personal life and choices that I make, yet am drawn to quiet and subtle art. When I try to create more overtly political or ecological works they become contrived and lose their impact. I am currently thinking that writing and sharing more about my work and processes will shed light on the ideas and concerns behind it without forcing the artwork itself to fit into a particular way of working. I find that I am already moving forwards in this direction and am intrigued to see where it leads.
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