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.
My ohyoiw work since June:
Despite my vehemently anti-commemoration feelings, when I was asked if I’d like to curate the WW1 research of 6th form students of the Simon Langton Grammar Schools in Canterbury, I was keen to do it. It seemed to me that here was an excellent way to learn more about a subject that appalled me. Unlike an art project I couldn’t go in with strategies to develop the students’ creative responses to the war. There were crucial exams looming, and the long summer holiday. The students had worked closely with the Gateways to the First World War project at the University of Kent’s School of History, and with the team at the Heritage Museum in Canterbury , and they’d also dipped into the Cathedral archives. They’d researched archive material that related specifically to Canterbury, and people who lived here at the outbreak of war. At our first meeting the students looked at the Beaney Museum’s Front Room gallery, and came up with ideas about how they thought their research could be interpreted. They chose three strands of importance: the differences between the experiences of men and women of Canterbury during the War, the development of the War and how it was reflected in the daily life of Canterbury, and their discovery that memorials to the dead were often inaccurate; they wanted to create a memorial of their own.
‘Canterbury at War’ interprets their research.
I’ve made a large map based on a contemporary Ordnance Survey map, on which I’ve indicated events and places of significance, and the people whose documents are in the Museum archives. I’ve also designed a timeline to chart significant stages of the war against events in Canterbury. A cabinet contains archive material that the students used for their project: letters, identity cards, medals etc… I was keen to involve the students in creative activity themselves, and some have made their own ‘artefacts’: a ‘zine about women and the war, a book of authentic wartime recipes, a poem, and a soundtrack to a short film I’ve compiled, featuring popular war-time songs by members of the school choir.
The exhibition also looks at the value of remembrance, and the un-remembered: 306 soldiers who were executed for insubordination between 1914 – 1919.
This leads in to my installation ‘Flight’ in St Marys Church in Lower Hardres, nr Canterbury, from October 18 – Nov 2, which tells the stories of some of the men ‘shot at dawn’.
Now the Beaney exhibition is open, I have two weeks to complete the preparation for ‘Flight’: all the objects are made, but I’ve found so much variation between ‘official’ lists of those 306 men, that I’m double and triple checking now.