For Ruth Ewan, history doesn’t just belong in the past. It informs the present and tells us how we might live in the future. Her projects and exhibitions often unearth neglected historical figures or remind us of groundbreaking political movements.
Ewan’s ongoing work A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World is a CD jukebox with a twist. She has collected more than 2,000 songs with subjects ranging from the commemoration of historical events to political protest. They are divided into over seventy categories including feminism, land ownership, poverty, civil rights and ecology.
Ewan has examined the Dundee School Strike of 1911, re-created the metric clocks that were designed to run on French Revolutionary time, and documented the Socialist Sunday School Movement in Scotland, which aimed to provide an alternative to the church.
Edinburgh gallery Collective commissioned the artist to create a guided walk for the vicinity of their new home on Calton Hill in the city. Produced in collaboration with Astrid Johnston, the podcast Memorialmania (2013) tells the story of the area’s history, geology and geography. But while the walking tour, narrated by Tam Dean Burn and Ruth Milne, seems at first to be a standard tourist guide to the area’s monuments, it slowly emerges as a history of Edinburgh’s radical movements and a celebration of the hill’s unruly history. The tour pays particular attention to the Martyrs’ Monument in the Old Calton Burial Ground. It commemorates the men, including Thomas Muir and William Skirving, who were deported to the penal colony of Botany Bay in the 1790s for leading campaigns for electoral reform inspired by the French Revolution.
Ewan has also made a series of prints reflecting Edinburgh’s radical past. May The People (2013) reproduces the text of a banner from the Chartist movement, which called for political reform in Britain between 1838 and 1848.
Ruth Ewan works in many different ways: in sculpture and installation, in print, text, events and performance, but her art is less about objects than about ideas. Above all it is about people and the ways they have tried, and keep trying, to transform the world they live in.