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Ruth Ewan

Psittaciformes Trying to Change The World

12th Nov -11th Dec 2005


Ruth Ewan


London-based artist Ruth Ewan presented work based on the possibilities of teaching words and phrases to Psittaciformes, an order of birds including parrots, amazons, cockatoos, lorikeets, lories, macaws and parakeets. An aviary was built inside the Embassy from which a selection of birds were encouraged to repeat chants taken from field recordings made at the events and protests surrounding this summer's G8 summit in Gleneagles.

Characterised by the construction of gentle propaganda models, Ewan's projects offer an initial idealism that is often subsequently undermined or neutered. ' Psittaciformes Trying to Change the World' proposed a state of indecision between waiting and activism, where an unaware protest may eventually be uttered, but perhaps not even heard.

Psittaciformes Trying to Change The World - Installation View


A once hip French film director commented that politics is the tragedy of our time. The new tragedy is the lack of it. While chic esoterica permeates contemporary art galleries the popular culture industry, aided by the daily Murdoch’s and the UK phenomena of televisually analysing the peasants with pseudo-sociological game shows, continues the concretisation of class and the various mythologies required for fun for all false consciousness.

The role of politics along with its failed baggage of idealism and ideology makes the political position of the egalitarian post-everything artist one riddled with contradiction. The requirement to voice scepticism with an accent of customised socialism seems the only tenable approach. Dealing with the post-Thatcher anti-social absurdity of Great Britain Ewan’s work acknowledges the frustrated desires of a politicised class that is isolated from the causes they support and the centralised parties they are expected to vote for. Ewans recent work uses the fundamental human right of free-speech and the subsequent failings of the utopian ideals (loaded with redundant tradition) often expressed while exercising the right. Through associating the familiar (a pub juke box, or pet parrot) with ye olde ‘demands for the impossible’ Ewan re-associates banal everyday realism with the chance of extreme pop-political upheaval.


Kids Against Bad Things

Subverting goodwill and so-called social awareness into artworks that question the usefulness of utopian rhetoric returns to the age-old question of artistic responsibility with the correct answer. Although occasionally argued that art gains its significance through its otherness, this leads inevitably down the anti-social ‘Art for fuck All’ road. Ewan’s work uses an era defining confusion articulately communicated to an audience by no means reliant on an art school education. Avoiding the patronising worthiness of an indoctrinated politicised agenda and without falling into the pretentious trappings of passed avant gardes the work acts as highly objective and cynical social commentary. Forcing a moral majority to question their activities, responsibilities and self-satisfied ‘right on’ attitudes.

For the collaborative drawings, on show in church notice vitrines, children from Fife and London were prompted to colour-in line drawings of the graphics and symbols adorning the self-promotional banners used during the G8 rally. Recalling the decided lack of alternative perspectives being taught to kids in comp’s the dichotomy of at once radicalising or enlightening children to political causes and groups while at the same time guiltily exposing them to propaganda reflects well the current education crisis in raising future generations without the apathy and complacency we are told they are pre-destined to have.

Kids Against Bad Things II

Acting as anti-propaganda, acknowledging the desire to believe with romantic idealism while cynically intelligent enough to admit the hypocrisies and failings of systems of belief, ‘Psittaciformes Trying to Change the World’ takes the ultimate civilising human construct, language, and offers us the revolutionary vision of social change through the beak of a mimic. Protest chants coming from a parrot, aside from the satirical merit, transgresses the cultural status of ornithology’s most popular and illegally traded asset. Juxtaposing the endangered and exotic alongside a domestic political event serves as disseminate metaphor as well as straight -forward allegory.

text by Ross Downes

Ruth Ewan

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