Ruth Ewan, Worker’s Song Storydeck, 2018

Ruth Ewan, Worker’s Song Storydeck (film still), 2018

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Ruth Ewan
Worker’s Song Storydeck, 2018




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’.

"During the open call for magicians to take part in Sympathetic Magick we invited performers to come along to workshops hosted by Ian Saville and I, where we asked participants to share their existing routines and discuss how political and social commentary could be woven into their magic. One of these magicians was Billy Reid, a Glasgow based, close-up magician who performed his version of a ‘story deck’ routine to a well-known song, featuring cards he had illustrated.

This gave me the idea to create our own story deck routine to one of the political songs featured in my project A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World. Although the archive contains thousands of songs, it was this version of ‘Workers Song’ recorded by Edinburgh based Dick Gaughan which instinctively felt right for the format of a story deck. I designed the cards, drawing on images and texts connecting to previous and future projects, illustrations from The Plebs Magazine, Industrial Workers of the World graphics, and photos from the Museum of Rural Life. There are personal photos woven through the deck: family members who went off to war never to return; my grandfather, a worker in a Fife shipyard; and the grave of a relative I visited in a military cemetery in France. In a nod to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, there’s a point in the routine when death is mentioned in the lyrics and the deck turns black; another, when ‘the fat cat’s cream’ turns the cards white. Gaughan’s guitar playing is gentle and intricate whilst the lyrics are as vividly brutal.

Billy performed this routine beautifully several times during Sympathetic Magick, the most memorable of which was in Sandy Bell’s pub, to a group of the seemingly hardy male Edinburgh folk crowd, who were reduced to tears at the close-up experience of song, image, text, magic and quite possibly, ale." Ruth Ewan


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