This November, installation artist Christina Reihill will recreate the prison cell of Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be executed by the state, after she shot her abusive lover, 25-year-old racing driver David Blakely in 1955. Glad I Did I twill be an artist’s interpretation of Ruth Ellis’ cell, imagined moments after her hanging, informed by a close reading of the psychiatric notes, prison files and diaries. A video piece on the lower level of the gallery will feature an exclusive interview with the artist presented by Madeleine Keane, Literary Editor of the Irish Sunday Independent.
Ruth Ellis’ execution on 13 July 1955 was a turning point in the death penalty debate in the UK. Ellis unapologetically declared her intent was to kill her lover, who she shot five times at point-blank range. In court she infamously stated: ‘It’s very obvious that when I shot David Blakely I intended to kill him.’
Many sympathised with the abuse she suffered at the hands of Blakely, who famously caused her to miscarry following an alcohol fuelled row about another woman.
Glad I Did It asks visitors to step into Ellis’ mind at this crucial moment in history and to consider how easily they could have been in her shoes. The installation examines the thwarted desires and impulsive behaviours that led to Ellis’ execution, and explores how we all can be victims to our own addictions.
Recalling the darkness of her own addiction to drugs and alcohol, artist Christina Reihill prompts visitors to questions how ambition, desire, loss and grief impacts our lives and asks the question ‘how dissimilar are we all from Ruth Ellis really?’
The prison files illustrate Ellis’ relationships with her family, psychiatrist, lawyer and even the prison warden, and reveal the woman behind the media speculation, who has been on trial by the British public ever since.
Ellis famously declared her reason for wanting to die: ‘I want to join him‘ she repeated despite efforts that could have saved her from the hangman’s noose. If she had presented herself as a victim this could have spared her execution. But she didn’t. The artist believes Ellis wanted to die and appreciated her time in jail.
In her prison cell, Ellis, a Jewish nightclub hostess dismissed as a “tart”, could, for the first time in her life, experience the respect and dignity she needed. Here she was addressed as ‘Mrs Ellis’ and listened to, and the relationship plagued by violence and alcoholism that her lover had tried to hide, was front page news.
The artist Christina Reihill claims that in all that has been written, staged, documented and filmed, Glad I Did It reveals facts about Ruth Ellis, never identified before.
14 November – 1 December 2018
Bermondsey Project Space, 183-185 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UW