In 2014, Outset Scotland gifted the following three works by Ruth Ewan to the City Art Centre, Edinburgh:
May the People, 2013
35cm x 27cm
75cm x 63cm
Salisbury Crags, 2013
24.5cm x 31.5cm
These three print editions were originally commissioned by Collective to accompany Memorialmania, an audio guide for Calton Hill which Ewan produced in collaboration with Astrid Johnston – the first in a series of ‘Observers’ Walks’, funded by Outset Scotland. The prints were informed by research undertaken for Memorialmania, and the prints were made at the Robert Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen, which opened in 1866, and is now run by the National Trust for Scotland.
A central focus in Memorialmania is the Political Martyrs’ Monument, a large obelisk set in the Old Calton Cemetery, which can be clearly seen from Calton Hill. The monument commemorates five political reformists from the late 18th century who were imprisoned for campaigning for parliamentary reform under the influence of the ideals of the French Revolution. The five were found guilty of sedition and transported to Australia in 1794 and 1795.
May the People
The text in this print is from a political reform demonstration banner carried to Chartist demonstrations by James Caldwell of Renfrewshire. Chartism was a movement for political reform in Britain between 1838 and 1848, which took its name from the People’s Charter of 1838. During this time Chartist conventions (reportedly drawing crowds of approximately 5,000) would gather on Calton Hill to listen to radical speakers.
The People’s Charter called for six basic reforms to make the political system more democratic:
1. A vote for every man over the age of 21;
2. A secret ballot;
3. No property qualification for members of Parliament;
4. Payment for MPs (so poor men could serve);
5. Constituencies of equal size;
6. Annual elections for Parliament.
Black-neb is a lost Scots pejorative word from the eighteenth century used to refer to a democrat or those with sympathies towards the French Revolution. This is certainly a name that the political martyrs would have been called along with Dugald Stewart, the enlightenment philosopher who is commemorated in the large monument on Calton Hill.
The Radical Road is the track rising along the top of the slope immediately under Salisbury Crags, which can be viewed clearly from Calton Hill. It became known as the Radical Road after it was paved in the aftermath of the Radical War of 1820, using the labour of unemployed weavers from Paisley, supposedly at the suggestion of Walter Scott as a form of work relief. The text is a tongue twister, well known in Edinburgh (and in the past recited by the artist’s Grandmother) although the original source remains unknown.
The City Art Centre is an impressive, nine-storey former warehouse in the centre of Edinburgh. Originally constructed between 1899 and 1902, as part of the Scotsman newspaper buildings, it was converted to gallery use in 1980 and houses light and airy exhibition galleries over six floors. In fifty years, the City Art Centre has amassed an extensive historical collection of topographical works and cityscapes, and its current collecting reflects contemporary artists’ attempts to navigate the cityscape. Many works dramatise the uncomfortable proximity between human and inhuman elements, between utopian dreams and dystopian results: we might shape our environment, they suggest, but we are also shaped by it.