Sunday, 16 November 2014

Exhibition - The Art of Remembering, Rheged Centre, Cumbria

My friend Marian and I went to visit The Art of Remembering exhibition at the Rheged Centre recently. Funded by the Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery fund it is described on Rheged's website in the following words:

The Art of Remembering is a new contemporary art exhibition supported by Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and developed by Rheged. It asks what emotional connection remains to the First World War, and looks at how we have memorialised the conflict over the past 100 years. The exhibition features new work by artists selected from a national call out and it includes four new artworks commissioned by Rheged especially for the occasion. The Art of Remembering asks questions about how we remember events collectively, and re-evaluate our moral and patriotic attitudes over time.

Downed by Al Johnson
It was a small exhibition using many mediums, ceramics, needlework, film, artwork and more. The first thing that caught my eye when I went in was a scarlet coloured crashed plane, this sculpture is called Downed by Al Johnson. Only when I got close to the sculpture I saw that the scarlet was made up of squares of knitting. It was quite a contrast, the blood red killing machine covered in soft fabric. The artist says that the piece 'references the cultural shifts in the perception of women, moving from the domestic sphere to munitions factory'. And is this area, skirting the English/Scottish border, there was indeed a massive munitions factory 12 miles long, with mainly female workers doing the dangerous work.

Sweethearts by Morwenna Catt
Another piece that caught my attention was some large fabric hearts called Sweethearts by Morwenna Catt. They hung on parachute-like cords from the ceiling and brought to mind the much smaller sweetheart cushions that recuperating soldiers used to make. They were made from vintage fabrics and pieces of soldiers' uniforms, some were embroidered with patterns and words. Black threads trailed to the floor from them like bleeding hearts, or threads of stories from 100 years ago....

I found it quite moving as I walked through the sweethearts and read what was embroidered on them. One had a Union Jack background with a photo-like image of three soldiers aiming rifles, 'Shot at Dawn' was embroidered on it in red.

The artist was inspired by her own family stories of relatives that fought in that terrible war. And now, all these years later, that is something that many of us can relate to, most of us had a relative that fought and sometimes died then, and so that conflict is still able to resonate in many people all these years later.

Another piece that caught my imagination was Tails You Lose by Dawn Cole. It was monochrome, in the form of a wreath, like those laid on Remembrance Day, but made up of hundreds of heated-treated foil and paper shillings instead of poppies, with wispy black threads hanging from it.

This work again was inspired by a relative of the artist, her great aunt, Clarice Spratling, whose diary had been found in an attic. Clarice was a nurse who joined the war effort and wrote about it in her diary. She had to pay one shilling to go, this reminded the artist of the King's Shilling when soldiers used to be paid a shilling to join up, though this had stopped by World War One. But during her research in Wimereux where Clarice was posted she found a headstone that had a rubbing of a 1915 shilling on top of it. I thought it was beautiful in it's
Tails You Lose by Dawn Cole
simplicity in silver and black and the interesting and moving story behind it. It reminded me that it was not just men and soldiers that went to war.

I enjoyed the whole exhibition, but have just picked my favourite pieces of work to fully review. It is interesting to note that most of the exhibitors were female.

I found The Art of Remembering very moving and it made me think and maybe understand just a little of what my grandfather and his brothers (one who did not survive) must have gone through. I think one of the things this exhibition was aiming to do was just that, make us think and remember. This was such a terrible war that it still affects us one hundred years later and changed the world forever.

If you want to see this free exhibition (you also get an excellent free catalogue) you haven't long to get there though, it closes on November 23rd.

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