Ruth Le Gear is a multi-discipline artist based in Sligo. We sat down earlier in the year to discuss her work, and I am really grateful to Ruth for taking the time to sit down with me as it was a really great discussion. Ruth shows the unique flexibility that art has in how can approach subjects in ways other mediums would struggle with. Ruth’s blending of the scientific and the Homeopathic through her art practice to use an often overused term is distinctly unique. In this interview, Ruth discusses how she balances these different aspects to her practice and touches on the importance of research in her work. I feel safe in saying Ruth Le Gear is a one of a kind artist. hope you enjoy our discussion.
Homeopathy is a key element of your practice. How did that come to be?
I went to GMIT Cluain Mhuire thirteen years ago. At the time, I was really sick while I was studying. I have a remitting and relapsing illness, and I was in a lot of pain at the time. It was tough. It got to the point where I had a bed set up on campus while I was there. Luckily GMIT were super supportive. I don’t think I could have done it if I wasn’t for the support of Cluain Mhuire.
I was using homeopathy at the time as a method to relieve my symptoms. I was crying a lot because I was in so much pain. I then started looking at the emotional content in a tear. That led to then looking at it in a homeopathic way. Within homeopathy, the more that you dilute something, the stronger it gets. So for my degree show, I collected tears from myself and other people. I put an ad in the paper for tear collectors and left tear collecting packages all over Galway. You could find them on buses and in toilets in places where people might find them and cry, and people sent them back to me. I then worked with a homoeopath, and I made a remedy from all the tears put together and created an installation called Teardrops In Wonderscape, which is still my favorite thing that I’ve made. It was shown in Ev+a (now known as EVA International) the same year as I graduated.
It consisted of thousands of small vials, which held remedies made from tears. The vials had this incredible quality that when they were suspended upside down, you didn’t need to put a lid on them because the surface tension held the liquid it in. This body of water was held in four and a half thousand vials, which suspended above you. There was this sense of transition that something was waiting to happen. People were invited to lie underneath it, and there was projection through it, and underwater sounds came from the pillow. And in lots of ways, I still feel like my practice is unravelling that piece. Those little vials are the same vials I use now to give out my essences and remedies.
A lot of your work is the outcome of the residencies you have done. That is interesting.
I really enjoy the time and space a residency creates. Early on I spent time in Iceland and it was transformative for me. I have spent time on a tall ship in the Arctic, weeks in Cill Railig in Kerry. Travelled in the high desert in New Mexico and spent time in Nowy Port in Gdansk, which was one of my favourite yet unexpected places to wind up for months over a number of years. As an artist, I am strongly attracted by methodologies of investigation of nonphysical phenomena. I explore scientific methodologies as well as the more intuitive process of understanding these phenomena, including homeopathy. I have worked with the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of the Sciences (IO PAN). The institute conducts scientific research in the Baltic and European Arctic Seas. This work contributed to a significant solo show ‘Trace” which was exhibited at the Centre of Contemporary art in Gdansk in 2015. I also worked intuitively with the waters from Gdansk and consulted with a number of homeopaths. These methodologies are polar opposites, but I feel that crucial connections are involved in perception, and a unified experience is created from differences. Hahnemann, who is now credited with creating homeopathy, refers to two different kinds of knowledge: Wissen and Kenntniss. Wissen is the kind of knowledge you get from studying or reading books, while Kenntniss is that deep personal knowledge you gain through experience. This is the difference between knowing about wetness by reading about it versus knowing wetness by immersing yourself in water.
I find it interesting that you do most of your research on-site rather than prior to arriving at residences.
I love research. I see my work as a research-based practice. What I do, it’s a very intuitive conversation, for lack of a better word, with the water. When I do a residency, I’ll go, and I’ll sit with the water. There is no real language to the conversation, and in a way, that’s why I make the artwork; they are the results or interpretations of those conversations. When I went to Gdansk in Poland, had I known before I got there that it was where World War II started, I may not have signed up for a two-year residency there! It’s a very intense place. I was over and back a lot, and I spent three stints there for roughly two to three months apiece. It was an amazing opportunity to really engage with the place.
Another residency had me spend time in New Mexico back in 2017. For that residency, I went to some devastatingly brutal environmental situations in the Diné reservation, and it has taken me a little while to process that. Water from the San Juan area in New Mexico, and the water rights and the water pollution therefrom fracking. It’s really heavy. On the one hand, if you know all that before you go, you might have a bias or even an intention which isn’t responsive to the land. I’ll have a remedy session with the waters or the land. A lot of the time with the healing on the landscape it’s like layers of an onion, there might be one thing that’s not immediately apparent, but when you spend enough time in a space, everything starts to come up. This work in collaboration with Kaitlin Bryson was recently shown in Visual Carlow as part of Artworks.
Would you then consider your works landscape pieces?
I don’t love labels, but they are beneficial for people to understand. They are also helpful for me when trying to explain what I’m up to. They are landscape interventions. I spent three years with Glenade lake while I worked from a studio at the in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, which led to Water Senses. I did a residency there, and then I ended up living near to the lake for three years, where I explored much of the mythology and narratives around the lough from the perspective of the water. I have been working with the lake for years now. I still monitor the water levels there on the lake; it’s kind of habit to check now when there’s heavy rain. Recently it had the highest rainfall ever since records were kept back in 1865.
Colour frequently comes up in your practice around the water.
When I make a water essence from a place, I always have to return it to the site before it comes into being or is birthed and ready for use with humans. Often there is a one or two-year period where it’s just for the landscape. Then when it’s deep within the landscape, people can start taking it. It’s in that time I will take them in order to bring them forth. That is when the colours, those deep sensations come through. It is a kind of meditation by ingesting the landscape. It’s a bit like having a baby, now that I think about it! You’re bringing through, bringing the essences earthside and it’s a tricky one to put language on.
An interesting part of Water Senses are the mind maps that you presented in your publication.
That’s generally the way that the remedies or the water essences will appear, through that kind of drawing or meditation. That’s how I will map them out first. As they come through, when I take them, I’ve never sat and written text, it’s more visual poetry. It’s the way I think, or even the way that I remember, maybe. I enjoyed making the publication for Water Senses, and I do wonder if that’s the way things are going to be going forward.
It can be heartbreaking when an exhibition comes down, like what has happened to a lot of exhibitions due to Covid. You pour your heart and soul into a show, and it’s up for six weeks or three months, then you pack it up. Sometimes it moves on, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find that drop after an exhibition can be really difficult. You could be working on something for years, but there’s something about the tangibility of a publication that continues that little bit further.
Video and photography are another important element of your work. Could you discuss that side of your practice?
I guess because I try and travel so much and do so many residencies, video and photography are for me easy ways to document material. I love working with video; it’s a very beautiful and tactile process. You’re telling a story to the viewer. Most of my videos are very slow meditative pieces intended to lull you into the same kind of emotion as what taking the remedy would do, because a lot of people aren’t going to take the remedy. So in a way, I get the essence of the feeling across in these pieces. I used to work in very long, and when I say long, I mean hour-long pieces, but very few people watched them in their entirety. Though saying that, I had a show in Schwandorf Germany in 2018 a while back and I showed around six or seven pieces that were 40 minutes long apiece, and they sat and watched them all! Everyone that came into the gallery. It was like, “Wow!” They took it very seriously—this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. But in general, I do try and get the sense of the place across in under twelve minutes; I think twelve minutes is very long for people these days.
I would say the gallery context is interesting; I often treat people in gallery or studio spaces. So usually, if there wasn’t the current global situation, I would have invited you into the studio. I would have done a remedy session with you because that’s probably the best way for you to experience my practice and engage. It’s a feeling; it’s hard to use language to explain. I generally get curators I’m working with to sit down in my studio and do a short session. When I’m treating people in the gallery context, I’ll also show a film in the background. It can lull people into a different atmosphere in the gallery. It’s really interesting treating people in the gallery setting because it’s taking something that would normally be done somewhere else and bringing it right into the gallery; that kind of blending of environments is very interesting for me. Whether it is a video or my water remedies, I’m very interested in seeing how people respond in a gallery setting. It’s such a flexible space that can accommodate many things.
I think work presented in online spaces has to be made specifically for an online space. For example, I can send you my video, and you can watch it on your phone or your laptop. I have very little control over how you will look at it. You might not open it full screen, or you might have crappy speakers. We’re all human, but when you watch it in the cinematic way it’s supposed to be seen, it’s such a different experience. I think when moving things online, platforms have to be designed for that; I don’t think everyone can just be firing their work up online – you have to be very aware of how people are going to interact with it.
I am currently planning a film, Sensitive Chaos, that shares the sublime through images of water bodies. This body of work was proposed to be completed at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, but this residency is currently postponed, and now I have to develop creative ways to make this work here as it is something that I am deeply invested in.
My way of working has slowed due to having a child, but my vision and my relationship to water and my practice remains constant.
If we think of ourselves as bodies of water, it becomes clear how connected we are with nature and the environment; on becoming a body of water; I am also currently working with blown glass which is a slow, beautiful alchemical process which I am delighted to be up-skilling in. Again, this is a work in progress, but I am really enjoying returning to the sculptural element of my practice. It lends to the slow-moving meditation of the waterworks, and it is incorporated into the film works.
You can find out more about Ruth Le Gear work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below
thank you, Anne James for your work editing
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