E.A.S.T has returned to the Museum with a new exhibition produced in response to the centenary of the First World War. Each of the thirteen artists has explored the 1914-18 conflict and undertaken extensive research of their chosen theme. They have created beautiful and thought provoking exhibits. These cover a wide range of topics and reflections including life on the Western Front, the role of women, the effects on landscape and nature, allied armies, mapping, armaments and the works of writers and artists in the 1920s.
Artist Susan Canfield created a book in the shape of a star entitled ‘Time held me green and dying’ and inspired by T.S.Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’. I was particular interested on one side of the book that reflects the fascinating memoir of Vera Brittan’s experiences as a nurse. The film Testament of Youth is released in cinemas across the country this month and it seems a timely reflection. The Voluntary Aid Attachment nurses are shown being rescued from the hospital ship Britannic. In her memoirs, Brittan gives an account of nurses being rescued from the ship, one of whom was a survivor of the Titanic and the artist has shown this nurse at the forefront of the scene.
Another of the artists, Tricia North, has explored how everyday objects became intertwined with the horrors of the war for soldiers on their return. In ‘Starching the Tablecloth’, Tricia uses metal and stitch to reflect the ingenious way soldiers created their own grenades out of jam tins found in their rations and metal remnants found in the trenches. There are many stories told that returning soldiers struggled to adapt to ordinary life and it is interesting to consider how objects considered as home comforts may not have been such a comfort after the war.
In contrast, Ellen Devell studied letters from soldiers which showed how the insects, animals, plants and birds they were living amongst in the trenches provided solace and comfort, heart breaking reminders of home and touches of normality. Many of the soldiers noted in their letters of there seeming to be “hope as long as the Skylarks sang”. Yet, the skylarks sang in a landscape that was largely destroyed and Ellen’s exhibit reflects this in a texile panel placed inside an old first aid suitcase.
“Our abode is amongst the roots of a once beautiful wood. The Beeches and Elms are hopelessly mutilated, and the beheaded pines are gradually suffocating unto death. The amputated limbs are everywhere; trucks are riven from head to foot, even the ground itself is twisted and torn. But thank God, a man can cast his eyes up above the destruction to the sun and blue sky, indestructible by us puny sinners. The birds also defy defacement, and their music is the contribution of animate nature to the joyful fact that God’s handiwork can never be utterly ruined by man”
(Tommy’s Ark, Richard van Emden, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2010)
The exhibition is open at the Museum until 14 March, Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm. Come and see this alternative and inspiring approach to commemorating the First World War for yourself. Admission free to all members of the Museum Friends.