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The Ignorant Art School: Sit-in #1 Ruth Ewan

The Ignorant Art School: Five Sit-ins towards Creative Emancipation

Sit-in #1: Ruth Ewan
We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and It’s Not Too Late to Change

Sit-in Curriculum #1:

Spring Term: 25 February–24 April 2021 (online)
Autumn Term: 3 September – 23 October 2021 (in-person and online)

Afternoon Preview:
2 September, 3–7pm
3 September – 23 October 2021

Register for free tickets via Eventbrite.


Cooper Gallery’s major five-chapter exhibition and event project The Ignorant Art School: Five Sit-ins towards Creative Emancipation strides forward this autumn with a timely new exhibition by internationally celebrated Scottish artist Ruth Ewan.

For Sit-in #1 launched in February 2021 Ruth Ewan stated We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and It’s Not Too Late to ChangeForegrounding the revolutionary potential of education and keeping step with the contemporary necessity for collective action, in collaboration with The Ignorant Art School, Ewan devised two-month sequence of online gatherings which activated radical forms of collaborative learning and grassroots knowledge creation. Deploying imagination in all its rich emancipatory power and literally unsettling the time and duration of conventional learning, Sit-in Curriculum #1 traversed multiple histories, alternative social structures and popular culture to empower a lucid pedagogy grounded in communities of care and resistance unconstrained by classroom hierarchies.

Indexed by Dundee’s historical connection with the 1789 French Revolution, We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and It’s Not Too Late to Change brings together evocative manifestations of revolutionary time with the creative energy of dissent. Featuring a decimal clock especially installed on the public façade of Cooper Gallery, a virtual and physical perpetual Republican Calendar, a lightbox sculpture named Heckle, and an immersive installation How Many Flowers Make the Spring?, Ewan’s exhibition offers us a transcendent moment resonating with dissent and solidarity.

Resetting time is an abiding and representative leitmotif of revolution and 1789 is its quintessential expression. Desiring to introduce a new ‘civil era’, the French Revolution secularised and rationalised time by abolishing the 24 hour day in favour of a decimalised 10 hour day and by renaming every month of the year to reflect not the names of Gods or Kings but nature, science and the labouring classes. Inherently political, this revolutionary reclaiming of time rings loud and clear in We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and It’s Not Too Late to Change.

 Featuring a new ambitious installation by Ewan, How Many Flowers Make the Spring?, weaves together oral histories and the personal recollections of activists involved in public moments of dissent with an indoor meadow-like landscape made of dried grasses and plants. Channelling the natural symbolism of the French Republican Calendar How Many Flowers Make the Spring? asks us to embrace liberty and freedom not as individualistic goals nor as distant utopian aims, but as collective trans-historic struggles to which we can all contribute and effect social change.

“As flowers turn toward the sun, by dint of a secret heliotropism the past strives to turn toward that sun which is rising in the sky of history.” (Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History IV, 1940)

The Ignorant Art School Sit-in #1 | Ruth Ewan

Ruth Ewan,We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and It’s Not Too Late to Change, 2021
Installation views Cooper Gallery. Photography by Sally Jubb.

It's Not Too Late to Change (digital), 2021
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Artist Biography

Ruth Ewan is an internationally celebrated artist whose research-led and critically engaged practice has drawn attention within contemporary art and socio-political history. Engaging with the circulation of radical ideas and social movements, her work explores the processes by which ideas take form and spread from individuals to society.

Ewan’s work is recognised internationally and she has shown extensively at major venues including; Edinburgh Art Festival (2018 & 2020); Pitzhanger Gallery (2020); Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2019); CAPC, Bordeux (2019); Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, Paris (2019); Victoria and Albert Museum (2018); 32nd São Paulo Biennial (2016); Camden Arts Centre, London (2015); Tate Britain (2009 & 2014); Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, Glasgow International (2012); Dundee Contemporary Arts and Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla (2011); The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2010); the New Museum, New York (2009). She has realised projects for The High Line, New York (2019); Glasgow Women’s Library (2018); Create, London (2012); Art on the Underground (2011); Frieze Projects (2009) and Artangel (2007&2013). In 2016 she was awarded the Arts Foundation Yoma Sasburg Award for Art in Urban Space.



This event takes place on the second floor of Cooper Gallery.

The gallery is on two floors. First floor has ramped access and disabled toilet.

Second floor is accessible via lift and for wheelchair access via a stairclimber.

Advanced notice is required to arrange assistance from campus staff to operate the stairclimber. Please email in advance if you require lift or stairclimber access so we can arrange support.  

Large print versions of the exhibition information handout are available, please ask our Guides.


All enquiries please contact:



Image credits:

1. Ruth Ewan, Clocks, Governments, People, Letterpress print, 2012. Photography by Matthew Arthur Williams.

2. Ruth Ewan, We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be, installed at CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, 2019. Photography by Arthur Péquin. 

3. From The Great Brain Robbery, 1971 by Keith Paton published by Moss Side Press Ltd. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and obtain permission for the use of copyright material. We apologise for any errors or omissions in the credits and would be grateful if notified of any corrections that should be incorporated.

4. Ruth Ewan, The People’s Instruments, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, 2012. Photography by Ruth Ewan. 

5. Ruth Ewan, Back to the Fields, installed at CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, 2019. Photography by Arthur Péquin. 



Cooper Gallery would like to thank the following organisations for their support in realising the installation. 

University of Dundee Botanic Garden; Hospitalfield, Arbroath; Auchtermuchty Common; Pillars of Hercules; Becca Clark, Dundee; Warriston Allottments, Edinburgh and Flowers Vermilion, Glasgow.

Funding support:

The Ignorant Art School at Cooper Gallery, DJCAD is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland and Henry Moore Foundation. 

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