Ruth Wallen is an interdisciplinary artist and writer whose work is dedicated to encouraging dialogue around ecology and social justice. Initially trained in environmental science (biology and anthropology), she turned to art to address the heart as well as the mind, ask questions outside of disciplinary boundaries and help shape the values that inform community planning and development. Interweaving image and text, she works in public and virtual spaces as well as the gallery, often at the borders–of art and science, of various artistic media, and in the San Diego/Tijuana region where she resides. She also writes criticism on ecological art and race and gender in visual culture. In addition to her work at Goddard, she has been a lecturer in visual arts at the University of California, San Diego for many years and was a Fulbright Scholar at the Autonomous University of Baja California, Tijuana.
MFA in Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego
BA (with distinction) in Environmental Science, Swarthmore College
Areas of Expertise
- Interdisciplinary Arts
- Digital Art
- Web Design
- Performance Art
- Community and Public Arts
- Feminist Theory
- Visual Culture
- Contemplative Art
My art work centers around story, place and community. I begin by listening carefully and looking closely, distilling my experience into a form that generally includes text, or sound, and image, and invites viewer or audience participation. By sharing and creating new stories of place and community, I seek to move from the personal to the political, reestablish connections, suggest relationships and kindle new meaning. I address both the heart and mind, intuitive and analytical modes of thought. I call myself an ecological artist, as I am concerned with the dynamics of living systems—exploring the interrelationships between the biological, physical, historical, cultural, and political aspects of the environments in which we live.
I have been actively engaged as an artist and occasional critic for over twenty-five years. I work in a variety of media, from performance to photography, artists’ books, installations and computer media. My exhibitions range from Franklin Furnace, New York, to New Langton Arts in San Francisco. I have completed residencies/environmental installations in such diverse locations as the Exploratorium, Chaco Canyon, San Bernardino Children’s Forest, and the Tijuana River Estuary. My writing has been published in periodicals including LEONARD Exposure, High Performance, TIKKUN, The Communication Review, Women’s Studies, and the anthology, With Other Eyes: Race, Gender, and Visual Culture.
Though I still pride myself on being a Berkeley native, I have lived in San Diego for most of my professional life. Much of my work addresses the area in which I reside, from suburbia to the border region. I have been a member of the multi-cultural/national artists’ collaborative group, Las Comadres. I received a Fulbright to teach at the Autonomous University of Baja California, Tijuana and am currently the president of the Binational Association of Schools of Communications, a group that works to facilitate educational exchange between students on both sides of the border.
To give some sense of the range and breadth of my work, I began by developing an intimate relationship with place and shared the stories of my experience in the form of performative lectures, a form to which I have recently returned. Seeking to create a more dynamic interpretation of the ecology of parks and natural areas, I have created a series of “nature walks” that invite close observation and contemplation, raising questions instead of providing answers. All of my work, but particularly these contemplative pieces, are informed by my deep commitment to Tibetan Buddhist practice. In recent years more and more of my work is created on the computer. One extensive project of digital montages, developed as an installation, bus posters, and an extensive website, If Frogs Sicken and Die, What Will Happen to the Princes?, uses the frog as an indicator species of the human relationship to the natural world. Another project documents Palestinian Jewish Dialogue in San Diego, allowing the viewer to recreate the experience. To learn more about my work, please visit my website.
I am an avid reader of contemporary critical theory and write about contemporary art. Most of my published essays address gender, race, and representation. Currently I am writing about how new theories of art and science inform an ecological art practice. I am very concerned with making contemporary art and critical theory available to both teachers and students. To this end, I have participated in and developed various innovative arts education programs. On the college level I have taught classes in photography, digital and mixed media, and contemporary history/critical theory for twenty years. In addition to being a faculty member at Goddard, I am a lecturer at the University of California, San Diego.
I tremendously appreciate working in an interdisciplinary, self-directed context with Goddard students. I see teaching as a mutual learning process. I try to help students find and give voice to their passion, develop a personal working process, and build confidence to deepen and broaden their work.