Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ruth Ewan | Liberties of the Savoy

Ruth Ewan
Liberties of the Savoy
London, UK: Bookworks, 2012
136 pages, 16 x 32 cm., soft cover
Edition of 1,000

East London reportedly has amongst the highest concentration of artists and 'creative businesses' in Europe, but a strikingly low level of cultural engagement. The organization CREATE was founded a few years back to "bridge the traditional divisions of class, culture, education, and social background between our creative community and local people."

Scottish artist Ruth Ewan (who, incidentally, made one of my favorite pieces for Nuit Blanche last fall), was the recipient of the 2012 CREATE Art Award. She used the £50,000 to invite 200 teenagers from east London to take over The Savoy’s Lancaster Ballroom for an event called Liberties of the Savoy.

While researching the Peasants' Revolt, or the Great Rising of 1381, Ewan was struck by an event in which 1,500 marchers burnt down what was known then as the Palace of Savoy. "Instead of looting it, the peasants destroyed everything in it," says Ewan, "they saw it as a symbol of corrupt wealth and had a moral objection to it."

Thirty years prior, Henry of Grosmont, a great-grandson of Henry III, was made the 1st Duke of Lancaster and given special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom of England. All properties attached to the Duchy of Lancaster, including the Savoy, became subject to the laws of the Duke. The rioters of 1381 were executed and the Savoy area continued to benefit from the special jurisdiction, granting the wealthy residents special privileges, such as immunity from prosecution.

Responding to this history of opulence, indulgence and privilege, Ewan began working with over 200 kids (aged 11-16) from the six Olympic host boroughs. They designed a menu, selected bands and other entertainments, chose the lighting and decor and the means of transport for the event. They also assisted in the documentation of the proceedings, which was recorded for both this book and a documentary film. On July 17th of last year they travelled by cable car and boat to The Savoy's Lancaster Ballroom for the culmination of the project.

"The excessive gap between rich and poor that existed in the Middle Ages, we are still seeing that now," Ewan told ARTINFO UK, "a lot of young people don't leave their postcode. When we came on trips here preparing for the event, some of them had never seen the Thames. They live in a very closed area, and people who come to The Savoy also live in a very closed area, they see the class of their own and maybe they don't see another, so it's about bringing these two things together."

"When I first explained the project, they got it straight away. One of the boys at Lammas School said: 'Miss, they are never going to have seen people like us before.'"

The book collects the plans, drawings, photographs, interviews and texts led from the students,  alongside commissioned essays, and recipes from the executive pastry chef at The Savoy. It's available from the publisher, here, for £10.00.

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