Buchanan graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, in 2002. She completed a master's degree in fine art at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 2007. From 2008-2009 she was a researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
In 2012 she was Artist in Residence at Colin McCahon House in Auckland, and in 2015 and 2016 she was the Govett-Brewster Aotearoa New Zealand Artist in Residence. Buchanan is represented by Hopkinson Mossman, a contemporary art gallery in New Zealand.
Buchanan has lived and worked in Berlin, Germany for many years, and her work has been exhibited extensively in Europe and in New Zealand. Buchanan was one of the participating artists in the two day performance series that was part of the programme, Tate Modern Live: Push and Pull 2011. As part of this programme at the Tate Modern, Buchanan also had a performance that was part of the overall project, Performance at Tate: Into the Space of Art. Buchanan created The weather, a building as a tour that focused on the space of the museum rather than the art. In 2016 Buchanan presented Bad Visual Systems at the Adam Art Gallery in Wellington, wherein she "blurred the roles of artist, curator, and designer" by including German artists Judith Höpf and Marianne Wex in the exhibition. The exhibition won Buchanan a nomination for the 2018 Walters Prize, the leading modern art award in New Zealand.
- "Ruth Buchanan: The actual and its document | Govett-Brewster Art Gallery | Len Lye Centre". www.govettbrewster.com. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
- Wellington, Victoria University of (2016-09-20). "Exhibition a "homecoming" for ambitious contemporary artist". Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
- "Ruth Buchanan | Never Not a Body | artists alliance". artistsalliance.org.nz. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
- House, McCahon. "Ruth Buchanan McCahon House Artists Residency". www.mccahonhouse.org.nz. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
- "Ruth Buchanan | HOPKINSON MOSSMAN". Hopkinson Mossman. 2018-02-13. Retrieved 2018-08-03.
- "Push and Pull". www.tate.org.uk. Retrieved 2019-03-23.
- Finbow, Acatia. "Ruth Buchanan, The weather, a building 2011". Cite journal requires
- "Bad Visual Systems: Ruth Buchanan, Judith Hopf, Marianne Wex | Adam Art Gallery". www.adamartgallery.org.nz. Retrieved 2018-08-03.
- "Walters Prize nominees announced". NZ Herald. 2018-03-22. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 2018-05-08.