Ruth Ewan

All Distinctions Levelled

Ruth Ewan devised a weathervane for Flood House which was made by Karen Green, a specialist in traditional copper weathervanes. The design incorporates the word ‘LEVEL’ positioned above the east – west axis which alludes to the extreme changes in water levels that come with the rise and fall of the tide in the Thames Estuary. The word is also a reference to a speech by the 14th century radical itinerant priest John Ball. In one of his rousing sermons he rails against the injustices of the English tax system and the extreme inequalities that led to the Peasants Revolt of 1381, which began in Essex. With incredible prescience, the work speaks 600 years later to an audience caught up in a system divided between the 1% (the ‘rich’) and the 99% (the ‘rest’), with a political and economic elite still reeling from the fallout of the Panama Papers exposé, broadcast shortly before Flood House launched from the Essex coast.

“My good friends, things cannot go on well in England, nor ever will until everything shall be in common, when there shall be neither vassal nor lord, and all distinctions levelled; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill they have used us!… They have wines, spices and fine bread, when we have only rye and the refuse of fine straw; and if we drink, it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, when we must brave the wind and rain in our labours in the field; but it is from our labour they have the wherewith to support their pomp.… Let us go to the king, who is young, and remonstrate with him on our servitude, telling him we must have it otherwise, or that we shall find a remedy for it ourselves”

Excerpt from a speech by John Ball, documented by Jean Froissart in The Chronicles of England, France, Spain, 14th c.

‘LEVEL’ is a palindrome which makes it a perfect friend to a weathervane. The earliest English vane dates from c.1340, the period in which John Ball was preaching. There are many rich connections between Ball and the county of Essex and we hope to be able to find a home for the vane in Southend-on-Sea once Flood House leaves the Estuary.

We are extremely grateful to Focal Point Gallery for supporting, funding and facilitating this commission.


Ruth Ewan (b.1980, Aberdeen) lives and works in London. Exhibitions of her work have been presented at Camden Arts Centre, London (2015); Tate Britain and Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (with Astrid Johnston) (2014 and 2013); Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, the Glasgow International and the Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2012); Dundee Contemporary Arts and the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla (2011); the ICA, London (2008); the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2007) and Studio Voltaire, London (2006).

She has realised projects in London for Parliament (2015), Vital Arts (2015), Create (2012), Art on the Underground (2011); Frieze Projects (2009) and Artangel (2007). Her work has also been included in survey exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw and Tate Liverpool (2013) and the New Museum, New York (2009).

Ewan’s work takes many forms including events, installation and printed matter. She is interested in histories of radical and utopian thought and the way in which we might use these ideas to question how we live today. Often engaging with groups of people or specialists from other fields such as historians, traditional crafts people, horticulturalists, archeologists, musicians and bakers, Ewan’s projects involve a process of focused research and close collaboration.

In recent projects she has explored alternative perceptions of time. For ‘We Could Have Been Anything We Wanted to Be’ (Folkestone Triennial 2011) and ‘Back to the Fields’ (Camden Arts Centre 2015) she brought to life the French Republican Calendar and decimal clock. She is currently artist in residence at Cambridge University’s North West Development where she is creating a meadow featuring time-telling plants. Her work will be included later in 2016 in Incerteza Viva, 32nd São Paulo Biennial.