I’m horrified by the persistence of violent conflict involving civilians all over the world. Ours is such a small world, and it is being destroyed. Towns and cities reduced to rubble in Syria, middle-class civilians in Kiev making ‘napalm’ bombs, women raped and children stolen to fight in the 3rd world – it goes on and on.
I will be taking down ‘Flight’ on Wednesday, and it will be set up for a week at Beach Creative, in Herne Bay, to counter-balance an exhibition of illustrations for a book about ‘Tommy Atkins’ by the artist Albany Wiseman.
I’m pleased with visitors’ responses to the installation: I think I have translated what was for most people a cliche (‘shot at dawn’) into reality. The installation was completed with 12 well-documented stories of soldiers who were executed; some of them 16 or 17 years old when they died. They were killed in an attempt to make an example, maintain order in the ranks: it didn’t work as there were more executions later in the war, than in the early years. This research has been absorbing and deeply sad, and I think I’ll continue to develop it over the next four years.
Yesterday, setting up the feathers, was an interesting experience. I had thought about this project for so long,and planned the installation, but when it was time to start hanging the feathers,I felt very nervous. The intention was to hang each feather individually from the frame, and how difficult was that! As soon as I began, the frame was moving, and each thread threatened to twist with the next. Once there were a few, with a little more weight, it settled down, and I spent the next five hours up and down the ladders, hanging and tying, occasionally snagging the feathers so that they fell and shattered on the floor. Well, I had known it wasn’t going to be easy – but I think this is probably one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever set myself. The tinkling of the porcelain feathers was a beautiful and unexpected accompaniment to my work.
So – today it’s up, and visitors have been dropping in to the church all day. They seem to like it, and find the stories interesting. Several people suggested I should make a book of it all – well, maybe that’s an idea, now all the hard stuff is out of the way.
Wrapping up the 306 feathers yesterday, as I laid them out they looked strangely human, and all too like the pictures I’ve seen in the media this year, from the Ukraine, and Syria.
So this is my penultimate project for 2014.
Since I began this blog the fighting has escalated in Syria, Parts of Africa, Ukraine,
And the Middle East generally. I was horrified at the beginning of the year to see the rise of more conflicts, but now it seems even worse.
Setting the feathers up today – my last ritualistic act for Flight.
I’ve always felt that my installations are ritualistic: that’s something I’ve been veryaware of this week, preparing for ‘Flight’. My 306 porcelain feathers have been sitting in the studio for weeks, waiting, and when I began the week I had to be really organised. Each feather carries a soldier’s name and date of execution. Each feather has to be tied with a length of invisible thread, and wrapped individually so they don’t tangle. The repetitive activity of measuring and cutting thread, tying, with difficulty, the thread, writing names, wrapping carefully, checking off the list, counting…I’ve spent most of the week standing, and tying knots.
It’s a strange activity sometimes, this art work.The concept formed some time back in Spring now has to take form, and it’s not until this week that I’ve realised what a task I set myself back then.
I’ve been through the ‘why am I doing this stage?’ and the ‘I haven’t thought this through stage’ too.(I know that I have thought it through, but I’m pretty tired)
I love what I do, even though (or perhaps because) it throws me challenges – the harder the better, and I think that’s the point of ritual.
It’s a contained sequence of behaviours that bring about a permanent change. I wonder if my installation will bring about any change in the viewer? I’m sure it will strike chords and provoke comments. I wonder if it will seem to my peers to be interesting, odd, redundant, pointless? I wonder if I’ll fall off the ladder when I’m hanging those 306 porcelain feathers, or if when it’s in place it will have the presence I want it to have? All that repetitive activity has allowed me far too much time to wonder, BUT just today I began to think beyond the exhibition to my next work, whatever that will be.That is comforting.