We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and It’s Not Too Late to Change

Solo exhibition, Cooper Gallery Dundee 2021

Commissioned as part one of The Ignorant Art School: Five Sit-ins towards Creative Emancipation.

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 brought together evocative manifestations of revolutionary time with the creative energy of dissent. The exhibition included a decimal clock installed on the public façade of Cooper Gallery, a perpetual Republican Calendar, a lightbox sculpture named Heckle, and an immersive audio installation How Many Flowers Make the Spring?

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.

“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

We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be, 2011.
Decimal Clock installed at Cooper Gallery, 2021

Introduced by the French Revolution, decimal time divides the day into ten hours rather than twenty-four. Midnight becomes ten o’clock, midday becomes five o’clock, each new hour contains one hundred minutes and each new minute contains one hundred seconds. This revolutionary conception sets out to challenge existing systems of power by rupturing and reclaiming time.

Publicly sited above Cooper Gallery’s entrance the decimal clock references Dundee’s connection to the French Revolution by its proximity to the Tree of Liberty on DJCAD’s campus.

Originally commissioned by Andrea Schlieker for the Folkestone Triennial, 2011.

It’s Not Too Late to Change, 2021
Perpetual calendar, wood and aluminium

Its Not Too Late to Change is a partner work to Ewan’s decimal clock We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be and continues the lyrics of the song from the 1976 film Bugsy Malone. The oversized calendar, which gallery staff change daily throughout the course of the exhibition, follows the structure of the French Republican Calendar where the year is made up of twelve months of thirty days. Each month is divided into three weeks, each week is ten days long. The final five (or six) days of the year are festival days, named after the ideas; virtue, talent, labour, conviction, honour and revolution.

Designed in collaboration with Sam Blunden and Dan Griffiths.

How Many Flowers Make the Spring?, 2021
Installation including soil, moss, living and dried plants, grasses and weeds, five channel audio installation, 18 mins

image: Sally Jubb

How Many Flowers Make the Spring? is an immersive installation which gathers together organic material—living and dried plants, grasses weeds, moss, soil and seed heads—to create a meadow-like landscape indoors. Within the landscape voices can be heard; oral histories and personal testimonies, where individuals recall moments where they have been involved in direct action. Through weaving together individual recollections of different political events the voices collectively slip through time and place to suggest a moment of greater social transcendence has taken place.

I knew a man who nothing could dismay
Or take away his dignity
A man who knew, what two and two made and how Many flowers make the spring

‘Winter Turns to Spring’ – Robb Johnston

Recorded with five activists during lockdown in 2021, the original interviews recall events spanning a 60 year period in the UK including anti-Vietnam war protests, anti-fascist marches, anti-racist events, the anti-nuclear movement, the women’s movement, environmental actions and anti- immigration enforcement protests. The participants recall their position in these moments as social workers, writers, architects, singers, graphic designers and citizens, with a tenacity to not only imagine, but to fight for another possible world.

Featuring the voices of: Ali, Tayo Aluko, Frankie, Henry Bell, Roger Huddle and Robb Johnston.

Installation created with support from: University of Dundee Botanic Garden, Hospitalfield, Auchtermuchty Common, GENERATORProjects, Warriston Allotments, Pillars of Hercules Organic Farm, Flowers Vermillion, Margaret Ewan, and DJCAD graduates Becca Clark, Jamie Donald and Finlay Hall