“I wanted to make a show about the hidden secret sadnesses in families,” says Bobby Baker about her exhibition ‘Great & Tiny War’. “I can tell, from all my time in the mental health system, that everyone’s family has got ‘a war’ in it: everyone’s got some sort of trauma. It’s called transgenerational trauma and it’s how things can get passed down if they’re not resolved.”
‘Great & Tiny War’ is an immersive installation that takes place inside a Victorian terraced house in Newcastle upon Tyne and explores domestic life during the first world war. Baker talks more about the exhibition and her experience of mental health issues in a new profile just published on a-n Resources.
The commissioned project, which is part of the 14–18 NOW and is co-produced by Newcastle-based Wunderbar, has just been extended until 28 November 2018. This follows an “extraordinary reception” since it opened in September, as Wunderbar’s artistic director Ilana Mitchell explains.
“No matter how long you plan a project, it never really comes to life until audiences interact with it. Because of the nature of the show, visitors need to book a timed-slot, and we haven’t had a quiet bookings day yet, so it is brilliant that we are able to keep the house open a few weeks longer.”
The house is populated with multimedia artworks which represent different eras of the war. These include a display of 4,701 miniature meals, crafted from peppermint cream, and an armoury of baked weapons. Visitors, who are greeted by a host and guided around the show in small groups, are accompanied by an audio recording voiced by Bobby Baker. Following the tour, which takes 40-50 minutes, visitors can reflect on the exhibition over a cup of tea in the kitchen.
Mitchell adds: “‘Great & Tiny War’ has had an extraordinary reception, from teens to older people, from the local neighbours to those travelling to Newcastle from all over the UK. And the conversations in the kitchen, inspired by the ideas raised in the work, have been as wide ranging as the people visiting.”
Baker’s installation spotlights the frequently unsung contribution that women made during the war in the form of domestic labour and also highlights the wide-reaching and often hidden repercussions of conflict and trauma on mental health.
Speaking to Lydia Ashman in the new a-n Resources profile, Baker explains that both mental health and domestic life have been recurring themes in her work since the early 1970s, work that often subverts everyday experiences and uses humour as a tool to connect with people.
She also discusses the frustration she feels as an “older woman artist” and how, bar a very few small exceptions, she has only ever been given opportunities by women. At 67, she says she feels “more emboldened to speak out because I discover that there are many women who feel like me”.
“Having periods of bad mental health is part of the human condition and something that people can survive,” she says. “Being an artist is how I processed some terrible experiences, but I’ve emerged, the happiest I’ve ever been. Art saved my life.”
‘Great & Tiny War’ continues in Newcastle upon Tyne until 28 November 2018. wunderbar.org.uk/gtw/great-tiny-war
Artists and mental health: Bobby Baker, artist exploring mental health across generations is just published on a-n Resources. a-n members can access this and more mental health and wellbeing resources at www.a-n.co.uk/resource
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1. Bobby Baker, ‘Great & Tiny War’, 2017. Courtesy: Daily Life Ltd.
2. Alastair Cummings and Peek Films, Still from ‘Great & Tiny War’ trailer, 2018.
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