The final video piece

I have now finished the video piece for the exhibition and here it is.

The video is based around the five interviews I made with five members of staff / wardens at the Shropshire Regimental Museum back in February for which they chose and discussed an object each from the Museum’s collection.

The video has three elements. Firstly, the background shows my response to the objects’ narratives in the form of images. Secondly, overlaying this I am making the objects in clay in an attempt to connect with the objects and the narratives through art.  Thirdly, each part of the video starts with titles which illustrate responses to the objects by members of the public in the form of adjectives and nouns (rather than art, sculpture or images).

To me, the video is about the connections between objects and history, and how we can relate to those through various means: art, images or words.

I also painted pictures of the objects and the exhibition will consist of this video, the paintings and the clay objects made for the video. The paintings and the clay reflect my response to the objects through my need to make art as a way to channel an emotional response to an experience into something tangible. I painted because that is what I do best and that is how I naturally respond to experiences. I deliberately chose clay to complement the paintings, firstly, as I wanted to experiment with a medium I hadn’t used before, and secondly, because I felt that clay was a substance I connected with the First World War. When I think of clay and the First World War I think of words such as earth, basic, hands, brown, grey, closeness, mud, damp, messy, suffocating, claustrophobic, natural, rustic, raw and harsh.

I’m hoping to exhibit the ‘words’ from the public too in some way as I find words very powerful, and I think they can be a powerful art medium, just as powerful as paint, pen or clay.

My version of the Croix de Guerre

My version of the Croix de Guerre

Further smaller paintings and clay replicas of the objects I encountered on my trips to visit interviewees for the History Makers project will also be in the exhibition.

One of the History Makers objects

One of the History Makers objects

I now have one month to put the exhibition together, promote it and plan the display to go in the regimental museum.

Lucky finds, nearly unlucky losses

The most recent batch of ‘things’ I’ve had to photograph for the History Makers project includes this document.

Recovered rubbish

Recovered rubbish

Last week, the owner of this object dropped it off, along a number of other objects, at my house for me to photograph.

It is a fairly tatty bit of paper and could easily have been dismissed. However, the owner had framed it so I felt that it must have some importance so stopped in my photographing to read it. It reads: Following message received at 06.15 from GHQ begins AAA Hostility will cease at 11.00 on Nov 11th AAA. Troops will stand fast on the [illegible] at that hour AAA. There will be no intercourse of any description with the enemy until receipt of further instructions from GHQ AAA. Further instructions follow AAA. Line hold to be reported to [illegible] as soon as possible AAA.

It is dated 11/11/18.

When the owner of the document returned the next day to collect his objects, I queried him about this document and about how he had come to possess it. He told me an incredible story. His uncle had found it in a skip in Oxford and he’d only by chance glanced at it (it was amongst a whole load of other paperwork). Upon realising what it was he rescued it from the skip. I was amazed at the luck that this tatty little document of great historic importance had been found. How sad that it was so nearly lost.

Masses of clay objects

As I’ve been getting closer to the time of the exhibition, I’ve been working on fine-tuning the video and also making lots of clay World War I objects. During the last two weeks, I’ve been recreating out of clay many of the Pontesbury things I photographed. This has been an immensely enjoyable, and addictive, experience.

A victory medal

A victory medal

Cutlery pouch

Cutlery pouch

I’m not used to working in clay and I’m not used to ‘making’ things in three dimensions. I’m a painter. This has been refreshing. I haven’t had to think about light, shade, contrast, colour or tone. All those elements just fall into place as I mold the clay depending on the time of day. However, I have had to think about the appearance of the sides and back of the objects, something a painter doesn’t necessarily have to consider. I have had to think about surface, line and proportions. I have to think about practical things such as: whether it will stay together, whether it will break as it dries and whether it makes sense in three dimensions.

Diary

Diary

Cigarette holder

Cigarette holder

For every art project I’ve undertaken since starting the Foundation Degree has entailed me taking up a new media or one that I’m not confident in. At first it was video, then it was animation and this time, as I reach the point of familiarity with Adobe Premiere Pro, it is clay.

Gas bell

Gas bell

 

Medal

Medal

The hope is that people who visit the exhibition will feel comfortable picking up the objects, looking at them in their hands, feeling the lumps and bumps on them, feeling their coldness and relating to them in some way even though they aren’t the originals. They are rough-and-ready clay replicas. They are my response to being able to touch, smell and hold the objects.

German shell

German shell

Christmas tin

Christmas tin

Bag

Bag

Belt buckle

Belt buckle

 

 

Networks of objects

For the video piece I am making, I’ve had to purchase strange and interesting items that I might not normally need. I’ve also had to visit places I’ve never been to before. I was very close to having to suit up and photograph and video bees (I managed to avoid that in the end). I’ve driven to Shrawardine in Shropshire. I’ve been on the receiving end of strange looks as I’ve set up my tripod and camera outside Shrewsbury train station. I’ve travelled the county looking for horses in fields. I’ve got on my hands and knees to get the right shot of the right sort of wet, sloppy, dark mud on top of a hill. I’ve stood in the Armory in Leeds trying to get the best possible shot of ‘lots of guns’.

It'll be a real hardship drinking this

It’ll be a real hardship drinking this

I’ve cooked corned beef and cabbage. I’ve cooked corned beef and eggs. I’ve made a corned beef sandwich. I’ve crushed biscuits. I’ve poured sugar and salt into piles. I’ve hung bunting outside my house. I’ve spread honey on a plate. All of the sake of art.

Corned beef anyone?

Corned beef anyone?

My family have accepted this as all fairly normal behaviour.

It occurred to me, though, that this part of the process in creating footage for the video has helped me connect with the First World War in an interesting way. All these objects, things and places are contemporary. They weren’t hard to obtain. They still exist, yet they have a trace of a century ago. The bees aren’t the same bees that Captain Tanner kept warm with his jacket. The corned beef I purchased from Asda isn’t the same corned beef  they ate in the trenches (although I’m sure the taste is very similar) and Shrawardine has elements of the last century to add to its historic charm, such as cars in the drives, and wires overhead, which mean that it isn’t the same Shrawardine that the Tanner family lived in. But through my quest to find these objects and photograph or video them, I am connecting with the stories I have recorded.

Cooking corned beef with egg - engaging the senses

Cooking corned beef with egg – engaging the senses

The original objects: jacket, gun, cross, biscuit, corned beef, have a network of other objects around them: bees, honey, sugar, salt, cabbage, mud, hills, Plymouth (yes, I even have a photo of Plymouth), a horse, train station, guns, bunting, buttons, bread. I find it interesting that I can connect to the First World War through an object that is not usually associated with that conflict, or one which may only be loosely associated. In their essence, these objects have hardly changed in the last 100 years, they still taste, smell, sound, look, and / or feel the same as they did then. So it  is possible to connect through modern objects to a point in time using our senses. I feel that I am connecting with the First World War with my senses in this way and it is having an effect on me. I’ve learnt a lot through this process.

So it is not only through touching and photographing original objects from a century ago, such as letters, medals, equipment, treasures and documents, that we can feel something of past lives and events. It didn’t occur to me before that that could be achieved through contemporary objects.

Time now for a corned beef sandwich, one which hasn’t been anywhere near a First World War trench.

Yummy

Yummy

 

Exhibition countdown

The exhibition space for this project has now been booked. It will be in a huge gallery / art studio on the lower flower of the Riverside Mall in Shrewsbury called Participate Contemporary Artspace CLC. The exhibition will run from the 9th May until 21st May and will include a video projection, paintings and clay figures. More details to follow as they unfold. I’m hoping to link the exhibition to the Shropshire Regimental Museum so I can encourage people their to visit my exhibition and visitors to the exhibition to visit the Museum. The main aim is to provoke thought and interest in the First World War. I will also link the exhibition to the History Makers project which is about working with children and older generations encouraging thought and dialogue on the First World War through objects.

Here is a photo of the gallery space as it appears now. Hopefully it will look a lot different by the end of April.

The 'before' photo

The ‘before’ photo

Pontesbury things

I haven’t posted anything for a while because I’ve been very busy working on the video piece in response to interviews carried out with the Shropshire Regimental Museum staff and wardens and I haven’t yet got anything to share with regard to the video. It’s still a work-in-progress but I feel as if I am making good progress now after a long time experimenting and planning what I wanted to do.

I have also been making paintings of some of the objects I photographed in Pontesbury for the History Makers project. I will display these in my exhibition and link them to the project. These paintings are smaller than the paintings of the objects at the Museum but as they all had a significant impact on me, I felt the urge to paint them.

Barbed wire pole

Barbed wire pole

Stirrups

Stirrups

Autograph book

Autograph book

Random piece of rock

Random piece of rock

German gas bell

German gas bell

Shell case

Shell case

In different ways, these objects all affected me and continue to do so every time I look at my photographs or these paintings. I enjoyed the chance to meet their owners, talk about them, hear their stories and touch the objects and examine them up close. I may also make these objects in clay for the exhibition. They are all fascinating to me in their own right.

I hope that to some extent with my exhibition that I will able to show off their best features in my paintings and provoke some thought about the importance of these objects that live in people’s homes, a century on, to keeping the memory of the First World War alive for current generations, who may now be great or great-great grandchildren of those directly touched by that war.

I can still feel the clay in my fingernails

Today I have videoed myself making four of the five objects out of clay. I found this both very moving and very frustrating. The clay I used was really moist and ‘muddy’ and it went everywhere, including on my laptop keyboard, my clothes, my hair, my glasses and my cat. The clay was difficult to manipulate. It spread easily all over my hands, and got in my finger nails. It was dirty and almost too malleable.  I found that getting an accurate representation of the objects was very difficult. I was very quickly frustrated with it and soon gave up trying too hard.

However, I felt a much greater sense of connection with the objects using clay than I did with paint and pen. I had a feel for their importance, their size, and their relationship to the gritty, dirty everyday life in the trenches.

I like the idea of creating a ‘field’ of clay World War I objects, not necessarily all created by me, perhaps some by willing volunteers.

I actually like their imperfections. They seem somehow rawer and more organic and earthy that way.

My hands now feel beautifully smooth.

The jacket in clay

The jacket in clay

The Croix de Guerre in clay

The Croix de Guerre in clay

The biscuit in clay

The biscuit in clay

The wobbly corned beef tin

The wobbly corned beef tin

One more painting, one more thing

I have audio footage about two more objects from my two days at the Shropshire Regimental Museum. But I think I will only use one more, and that is the interview about the mauser. A mauser is a gun. I had never heard of a mauser before. I have no interest in guns. In fact, they terrify me. Yet this gun, when it was placed on the floor for me to photograph appeared as a thing of ironic beauty. It is simple and elegant, and today I painted it. It was a joy to paint. The Warden at the museum who chose this object to discuss knew so much about it and was so passionate about weaponry that I feel I owe it to him to include this weapon in my work.

It is almost as if I want to feel a connection to this fearful, ugly object, which, if you ignore what it is capable of, has a calm and compelling poise about it. It makes me think of TV footage from my childhood of elderly German men going to trial for war crimes. I wanted to hate them, yet they seemed so gentle and incapable of harm that I just felt a sort of compassion for what they were being put through at their age.

The sleepy gun

The sleepy gun

My painting of the gun

My painting of the gun

 

Two more paintings to go with objects

Once I start, I just cannot stop. I’ve created two more paintings, which have been videoed in the same manner as the previous two. I haven’t viewed the video footage yet but as I am on a roll with painting, I will keep going. I love painting.

I find painting in gouache both new and interesting and intensely frustrating. My favourite paint medium is oil but I can’t video myself painting in oils as each painting would need days between sessions in which to dry. So I have to put up with the frustrations I have with gouache and enjoy the opportunity to work in a new medium. It has a certain simple beauty to it. I like the earthiness of it. I don’t like the fact it dries so quickly. I think it is an appropriate medium for this project.

The real 100-year old biscuit

The real 100-year old biscuit

My interpretation of the biscuit

My interpretation of the biscuit

The tin of corned beef - bully beef

The tin of corned beef – bully beef

My version of the corned beef tin

My version of the corned beef tin

One more painting to go.

Two paintings to go with two objects

I have been on this project for three months and I’ve spent a lot of time so far experimenting, writing, thinking and interviewing. I have now started to make ‘stuff’ that could feature in the final exhibition. I have spent the last two days videoing myself painting two of the objects selected by staff at the Shropshire Regimental Museum to go with the audio of the interviews.

It will take me a while to put the videos together and work out how to put together the footage (and how to edit out the cat who always seems to know when I don’t want her in the same room as me).

The Tanners jacket that was used as a beehive

The Tanners jacket that was used as a beehive

The jacket in paint

The jacket in paint

The Croix de Guerre

The Croix de Guerra

The Crois de Guerre in paint

The Crois de Guerre in paint

So next, to paint a biscuit.