Ruth Ewan

We could have been anything that we wanted to be (red version)

2011

Not on display

Artist
Ruth Ewan born 1980
Medium
Modified analogue clock
Dimensions
Object: 1020 × 1020 × 308 mm, 27.7 kg
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Tate Patrons 2015
Reference
T14387

Summary

We could have been anything that we wanted to be (red version) 2011 is a large, wall-hung decimal clock, which divides each day into ten hours, each hour into a hundred minutes, and each minute into a hundred seconds. The clock’s circular casing is red in colour. It was made by Ruth Ewan in relation to a work she was commissioned to make for the second Folkestone Triennial in 2011, also called We could have been anything that we wanted to be. The commission comprised ten decimal clocks of different designs installed around the seaside town of Folkestone in Kent. All the clocks were displayed publicly, some in very prominent positions such as the town hall, and others that had to be either assiduously sought out or happened upon by chance, such as those found in a pub or a local taxi. With each clock, Ewan replaced the dials and mechanism to achieve the decimal regulation of time. We could have been anything that we wanted to be (red version) 2011 is one of two decimal clocks made in addition to those that were part of the Folkestone commission. The other is We could have been anything that we wanted to be (black version) 2011 (Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw) which has a black casing.

Ewan’s ten clocks make reference to an historic attempt to recalibrate the day along decimal lines following the overthrow of the French monarchy and aristocracy during the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. On 5 October 1793 the newly formed Republic of France abandoned the Gregorian calendar in favour of a new version: the decimal French Republican Calendar, which became the official calendar of France for the subsequent thirteen years. As the old regimes were dismantled and discarded, and as the appetite for new beginnings grew, time itself was briefly reordered in an expression of revolutionary optimism.

An interest in radical and revolutionary ideas resonates throughout Ewan’s work, which takes many forms including performance, installation and printed matter. Her practice often examines overlooked or forgotten areas of political and social history, giving prominence to activists and radical thinkers from the past, and highlighting their continued relevance today. One of her best-known works, A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World (2003–ongoing), invites visitors to choose tracks from the jukebox’s growing catalogue of over 2,200 politically motivated songs. The artist has written:

I am interested in viewing history not as remote past but as alive and potentially relevant to the present; in seeing how ideas circulate through ‘unofficial’ channels, such as oral history, songs or myths; in how a movement, event or cultural product from the past may produce ripples in the present; and in how those ripples can be controlled, transferred or tampered with in order to produce new meanings or interpretations.
(Ewan in Bourriaud 2009, p.102.)

We could have been anything that we wanted to be (red version) can be displayed in a gallery alongside other works of art, or it can be positioned in the spaces around a building where one might conventionally hang a clock.

Further reading
Nicholas Bourriaud, Altermodern: Tate Triennial, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009.
Ruth Ewan, exhibition catalogue, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee 2012.

Helen Delaney
January 2015

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Display caption

Ruth Ewan’s decimal clock divides each day into ten hours, each hour into 100 minutes and each minute into 100 seconds. Historically, the re-ordering of time is an expression of revolutionary optimism. Ewan refers to the attempt to recalibrate the day along decimal lines during the French Revolution. On 5 October 1793, the decimal French Republican Calendar became the official calendar of France. During the Paris Commune in 1871, the clocks were shot at to symbolically put an end to the time of rulers. For Ewan, time marks a place without defining an object. It is a space in which normal society can be subverted.

Gallery label, August 2020

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