Last weekend I explored the First World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museums, London. I’d been waiting a while to give the exhibition a full afternoon of attention, choosing the right time to float amongst the crowds.
It’s a really interactive, stimulating and aesthetically pleasing arrangement of memorabilia from personal letters, Lord Kitchener propaganda posters (over 100 original designs), rations tins, gas masks, weapons, uniforms from the commonwealth, maps, documentation, my list goes on. It’s a very thorough and approachable arrangement of WW1 and it gives you an insight into all aspects of war, the workforce and political happenings surrounding the UK, Russia and France. As finance and recruitment became increasingly difficult for Great Britain they lowered their requirements and fitness for soldiers. I think it was 5ft 3inches that was the new height requirement for soldiers.
The classic Kitchener propaganda
What I relate to most are the personal letters from soldiers to family members. One of the images i’m attaching is a letter from a brave Dublin child that I found fascinating. It’s a courageous and wonderfully executed letter for a boy of his age – not pictured is Lord Kitchener’s kind response telling the boy that he admires his efforts and that he’s a bit too young at present!
‘Private Denis Smith’ was another would be solider that was later arrested after illness most likely from laying mines in tunnels. Her real name was Dorothy Lawrence, she was arrested for posing as this ‘Private Denis Smith’. Women were not allowed to be soldiers but they were still employed to work in industry and take over mens’ roles in labs, mills and factories. Over half a million women were employed during the war.
A few floors above this exhibit at IWM Contemporary is the commissioned work by Turner Prize-nominated artists Jane and Louise Wilson. It’s on display from now until January and marks the Centenary of the First World War also. The video installation is about technology, presence/visibility, over an unusual narrative structure. I came in on the piece at a point when one of the soldiers is removing and destroying his garments of war. Watching the whole piece through from the beginning whilst shifting about through the mesh and structures around the projection was a bit disorientating but melded in nicely with the piece. The video itself is unnerving and mysterious as you can’t really tell where the sets are meant to be situated. It feels like one is in a microscopic world amongst propellers and set building, and performers.
Both exhibitions are definitely worth a visit! Great use of technology, projections, interactive learning for kids and of course memorabilia and personal histories.