Thinking progress

Posted on February 14, 2015

After an early start on the St. Margaret’s Bay joined up project, my progress has hit a bit of a lull. I ran a slide painting workshop at the annual ‘Home front’ event in order to meet people who lived in the area and talking to them about the WW1 local history. It appeared that most of the people I spoke to have moved to the village within the last generation, and therefore their own family history connected to other areas. However it was still interesting to see what their knowledge was of WW1 and what they felt would be important to focus on in this context.

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I then spent a while researching into WW1 itself. As soon as I started this project I realised that my own personal knowledge of this war is pretty limited. I am pretty sure I am not the only person of my generation who would own up to this. At school we got taught about WW2, and Hitler. I remember being called a Nazi in the playground because my mum is German. But WW1 almost like a footnote to our history education, and wasn’t given much importance.

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I realise now that perhaps this shaping of history is not accidental at all. In fact the real story of how the war started is messy, ludicrous, and depressing. The simple narrative of ‘good guys versa bad guys’ does not fit, and once you start reading the details you see immediately how sad and pointless the sequence of events were.

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I also research the other responses to WW1. Given it is the centenary there is suddenly a lot of commemorative exhibitions and artists projects. It is useful to see the range of approaches, especially the more innovative methods of tackling this difficult subject.
My plan now is to spend a series of days getting to know St. Margaret’s Bay, spending time drawing and looking at the archive to form a better understanding of the context in which I want to make work. I am lucky to be offered a place to sleep above the tea rooms, so I will be literally on site.

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I have already had some preliminary ideas though;
1. A commemorative biscuit. Given the museum is twinned with a tearoom, it seems obvious to make work which connects with this. I thought about designing a biscuit mould, the staff can then use to make biscuits with, and sell as part of their cakes offer.

2. Trench Art. I discovered a book about this curious phenomenon which is fascinating. Just trying to imagine the soldiers who with limited means, and in the middle of a war zone, found the will and creativity to make such beautiful artworks, fills me with awe and respect. The objects they made are bizarre, unique and hand made. I like these qualities. It is a bit like folk art, just made with wartime materials. St. Margarets does not have any trench art, but there is no reason why I could not make a fictional piece that somehow drew from stories about the local WW1 history.

3. A WW1 dolls house. Again the museum does not have much WW1 artifacts, however it does have a life size Winston Churchill, who speaks if you press a button. He is very popular. I thought about all the bombs which dropped on the village and how that must have affected life in the homes. I thought wouldn’t it be a useful tool to have an artwork which children could play with, that actually had lots or researched details of what the home would be like in WW1.

4. The embroidered postcards. I love them; they are so warm and tender. They show humanity at it’s best, individuals writing home to their families, hoping and dreaming of a happier future. In a way, although I know the project is about WW1, I don’t want to focus on the sad story which is about death and destruction. These cards and personal messages show me that beyond the anonymous photographs those people had feelings and thoughts which are very similar to my own. They makes me identify and empathize stronger than any shocking description of brutality could.

5. I also found this postcard online which I like; http://catalogue.stmargaretshistory.org.uk/items/show/1630 It made me think about views of the bay, and what it would have looked like during WW1. Not sure where this is going, but however, it feels like another possible idea.