Ruth Ewan, Magic Words (Ian, Margaret, Peggy), 2020

Ruth Ewan, Magic Words (Ian, Margaret, Peggy), 2020. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Stuart Armitt.

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Ruth Ewan revisits her Sympathetic Magick (2018) project, where she invited magicians to consider how they might use their magic to change the world; with an online presentation of her short film, Worker’s Song Storydeck (devised with magician Billy Reid), and a special poster series Magic Words (Ian, Margaret, Peggy) devised with magician Ian Saville, calling upon all of us to join together in a ‘mass action for the radical transformation of society’.

Ewan's posters can be found at poster sites across the city, including: Meadowbank; Royal Mile; Murrayfield Stadium; Potterow and Easter Road.


The background image of these posters show a detail of a toy diorama made by JC Clark around 1825 from the collection of Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. The overlaid text on this version of the artwork is an edited version of magician Ian Saville’s spell as featured in Sympathetic Magick in 2018. One version is hand written by Ian, one by my mum and one by my 7 year old daughter.

A long adopted symbol of hope and sexual liberation, who would’ve foretold rainbows would become so abundant in 2020? During our lockdown  ‘daily exercise’, our kids would shout out as they spotted them around our community, each one a reassuring hand crafted signal to pedestrian passers by.

I once interviewed an extraordinary woman at the side of her hospital bed in Mile End Hospital, east London. Her eyesight was poor and she pulled me in very closely to listen to her story. She told me she was one of the first women to give birth under the newly formed NHS of 1948. When she arrived home from hospital with her new baby, a letter was waiting for her, saying her previous maternity charges had been written off. She cried with joy. She was still struggling with debt from having had a stillborn baby the year before.

It is said we are all products of the times we live through. Could these dark days give way to a new transformation of society within our lifetimes? Ruth Ewan


The text on the posters are extracts from Ian Saville’s ‘magic words’ that he asks people to repeat during his act:

Join in with the magic words:
Mass action for a radical transformation of society, 
From a society based primarily on profit,
To a society based on human need.

Words courtesy of Ian Saville.
Image courtesy of City of Edinburgh Council, Museum of Childhood.

This series of responses has been made possible thanks to the support of the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund and EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.

Full selection of artist responses is available here.


Ruth Ewan (b. 1980, Aberdeen) is based in Glasgow. Exhibitions of her work have been presented at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2019), CAPC, Bordeux (2019); Camden Arts Centre, London (2015); Tate Britain and Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (with Astrid Johnston) (2014 and 2013); Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Glasgow International and the Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2012); Dundee Contemporary Arts and Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla (2011); ICA, London (2008); Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2007) and Studio Voltaire, London (2006). She has realised projects for The High Line, New York (2019); Glasgow Women’s Library (2018); Book Works (2017); Cambridge University (2016); Vital Arts (2015); Create (2012); Art on the Underground (2011); Frieze Projects (2009) and Artangel (2007 and 2013). Her work has also been included in survey exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2018); Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw and Tate Liverpool (2013); the New Museum, New York (2009) and Incerteza Viva, 32nd São Paulo Biennial (2016). In 2016 she was awarded the Arts Foundation Yoma Sasburg Award for Art in Urban Space.


30 July – 30 August


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