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New commission by Ruth Ewan to open at Collective, Edinburgh shares an alternative history of Andrew Carnegie
Ruth Ewen, The Beast.

EDINBURGH.- This summer, Collective presents a new major commission for the City Dome by Ruth Ewan.

Scottish artist Ruth Ewan presents The Beast, a morality tale centered on the obscured history of the famous Scottish/American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Comprising a new animation, a selection of archival material and a wall text, the exhibition tells the story of Carnegie’s ruthless accumulation of wealth and the place he bought in history via an uncanny encounter with his palaeontological namesake, Diplodocus carnegii. The Beast runs from 25 June to 18 September 2022.

Ewan has long-term interests in creativity and social justice, alternative systems and radical histories. Her work is deeply rooted in research, finding expression in a wide variety of forms including events, performance, writing, installation and print. Collective and Ewan have a long working relationship, including the artist’s first solo exhibition in 2002 as part of Collective’s New Work Scotland Programme and the audio guide, Memorialmania (2014) a collaboration with Astrid Johnston.

Focusing on Carnegie, one of the wealthiest individuals in history, this timely project looks at an era of unscrupulous capitalism, highlighting the practices which enabled him to accumulate his wealth, including abject working conditions and union busting alongside the generation of catastrophic environmental pollution. Carnegie’s wealth predominantly came from steel production in Pittsburgh and Homestead, where even the growth of surrounding trees were said to be stunted due to the pollution. In July 1892 Homestead Steel Works was the site of one of the most violent events in U.S. labour history, when a lockout sparked by a 15% cut to worker’s wages, resulted in the death of ten men including seven workers and three private Pinkerton guards. The lockout is said to have killed unionisation in the US steel industry for 40 years. Record breaking profits followed the Homestead strike and without the hindrance of a union, Carnegie was able to slash wages, impose a 12 hour working day and lay off 500 workers.

The exhibition includes a new animation and a collection of archival material relating to Carnegie along with geological specimens from the University of Edinburgh’s Cockburn Geological Museum, including plants, rocks and minerals associated with steel production. Also on display from the collection is the fossilized skull of an Ichthyosaur; a large marine reptile that lived during the Mesozoic Era, first appearing around 250 million years ago and dying out about 90 million years ago. This combination of ideas and objects speaks of the long term consequences of over industrialisation, where natural resources, geology and labour were seen as resources to be plundered for individual gain.

Inspired by the aesthetics of the late-19th century American political satire magazine Puck, the animation titled The Beast connects the legacies of this time to the modern day and imagines what we could learn from dinosaurs, the last species to face mass extinction. The script has been written with Marxist magician Dr Ian Saville and centres around a conversation between Carnegie and Diplodocus carnegii, or Dippy as they are more popularly known. The conversation reveals a provocative and layered history, featuring the voices of Dave Anderson as Carnegie and Keeley Forsyth as the dinosaur.

Production of The Beast was funded and supported by the University of Edinburgh Art Collection, and the work will go on to join the holdings of the institution for use in research, teaching and display across a range of disciplines and sites. A research document has also been commissioned by the Art Collection, proposed to bring together the artist’s research and production materials, with the aim of providing students and researchers an insight into Ewan’s methodology.

Alongside The Beast, Collective are hosting Ewan’s Silent Agitator (2019) on the viewing terrace, a public clock originally commissioned by High Line, New York based upon an illustration produced by Ralph Chaplin in 1917 for the Industrial Workers of the World union (the IWW). Chaplin’s illustration, bearing the inscription ‘What time is it? Time to organize!’, was reproduced on millions of gummed stickers, known as ‘silent agitators’, that were distributed by union members in workplaces and public spaces across the US. The clock hands bear workers’ clogs or, in French, sabots from which the word sabotage is derived (sabotage was originally used in English to specifically mean disruption instigated by workers). Clocks are a ubiquitous symbol within industrial disputes as hourly wages and the extent of working hours are often the source of argument. Silent Agitator nods to the IWW’s organising for the rights to a five-day work week and eight-hour work day, and posits a future in which we further reclaim our time.

Collective’s programme in the City Observatory aims to consider hidden histories and untold stories relating to Collective’s site and wider cultural history. The Beast forms a major part of Collective’s summer programme, and sits alongside a presentation of Ewan’s sculptural work Silent Agitator (2019), and new exhibitions by Annette Krauss and Camara Taylor – all of which will be open for Edinburgh Art Festival 2022.

Often working collaboratively Ruth Ewan has created music projects, walks, radio programmes, design projects, workshops and books. She has shown extensively within galleries and museums including; The Laing Gallery (2022); Tate Liverpool (2022); The Cooper Gallery (2021); Edinburgh Art Festival (2018 & 2020); Pitzhanger Gallery (2020); Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2019); CAPC, Bordeux (2019); Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, Paris (2019); Victoria and Albert Museum (2018); 32nd São Paulo Biennial (2016); Camden Arts Centre, London (2015); Tate Britain (2009 & 2014); Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, Glasgow International (2012); Dundee Contemporary Arts and Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla (2011); The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2010); the New Museum, New York (2009).

She has realised projects for The High Line, New York (2019); Glasgow Women’s Library (2018); Create, London (2012); Folkestone Triennial (2011); Art on the Underground (2011); Frieze Projects (2009) and Artangel (2007 & 2013). In 2016 she was awarded the Arts Foundation Yoma Sasburg Award for Art in Urban Space.

Her work is in the collection of Tate London, McManus Galleries Dundee, Museum of Modern Art Warsaw, FRAC Champagne Ardenne, The Scottish Parliament and CAAC Seville.

She is represented by Rob Tufnell, Cologne / Venice.

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