Exhibition dates 11 May - 16 June 2007
Ruth Ewan, 'Ours is the world, despite all.'
"Consciousness begins with disobedience."
Ruth Ewan's projects begin with a process of research into how we become socialised into ways of thinking - into how ideologies circulate, so that we are able to internalise them and make them our own belief systems. She is particularly interested in how ideas of political protest and opposition become shared and popularised through words, images and other media.
Ewan often works with groups or individuals to realise projects. In the past these have involved teaching parrots to recite slogans from the G8 summit in Scotland, to commissioning a new song about a 16th century uprising over land rights. Her body of work is based upon utilising 'popular' media and forms of expression - music or images, in the shape of memorable songs and graphic prints - rather than crafting exclusive objects. Her use of these media, and of 'found' texts and images asks us to rethink how we collectively accept certain forms of persuasion above others.
The objects or processes which result from her projects are, in her own words, best seen as "modest forms of propaganda", rather than highly polished productions. 'Ours is the world, despite all' consists of a group of new works based upon alternative educational systems and institutions developed in early 20th century Britain. These include 'The Plebs League', which existed between 1908-1927. Founded at Ruskin College, the League attempted to create a brand new educational system entirely free from capitalist ideology.
Ewan was the winner of EAST International 2006. Supported by Arts Council England.
Ben Young: 'The House in the Middle.'
"Coming soon to this location: charming ruins." Graffiti, Paris, May 1968
Ben Young explores archtypes of masculinity and processes of political persuasion, often by recreating films from previous generations. 'The House in the Middle' is based upon and uses footage from a North American short film from 1954. The original film was, unusally, co-produced by the North American Federal Civil Defense Administration and the 'National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau'. Made at the height of Cold War tensions, the film - somewhat implausibly - attempts to show that a clean, tidy, and freshly painted house was more likely to survive a massive nuclear attack than an untidy or unclean one. It shows three small 'houses' - actually sheds, mens' traditional place of refuge in the home - under nuclear test conditions. Amazingly, the tidy, well-kept home survives almost intact, whilst the other two perish - according to the narrator, due to their domestic disorder. The American state's injunction to its citizens to 'keep their homes in order' at a time of global peril is obviously tragi-comic. At the time, agents of the state such as Senator Joseph McCarthy were perpetrating grotesque abuses of power by manipulating public opinion through the media, and creating a climate of fear. Young examines the relationship of political power to the individual. He also enquires how the state has, on occasion, been able to persuade citizens to act against their own interests.
However, Young is primarily interested in the film's latent meanings - what it reveals about our deeper anxieties. Though he follows the original script word-for-word, he has added in additional footage. This includes science-fiction imagery from the period such as invisible men, models, animation, holograms and anagrams. Young links atomic-age anxiety with bravado; camp with destructive and violent urges towards fellow men. As he remarks, "the work is an alphabet soup of A-bombs and B-movies", evoking the contradictions and anxieties of another era as well as echoing more contemporary neuroses.
Young's story is based on a distinctly American mythology of rugged individualism, in which men are imagined as heroic cowboys conquering frontier territory, although having a fetish for cleanliness in the domestic sphere. For Young, such a disturbing imaginary world has its roots in a "pathological narcissism" and his narrative tone swings between being threatening and camp or absurd.
'Beggar my neighbour', 2007, copied from February 1926 edition of The Plebs by Michael O'Donnell aged 13