2014 marks the centenary of the First World War. Traditionally memorialised through permanent monoliths and statues, during this anniversary the 14-18 NOW programme will explore the war’s resonances and responses through short-term and often transient commissions.
This summer its 2014 programme commenced, the first of 3 series that mark the war’s span. Large-scale projects such as interventions, exhibitions and collective written response form the programme’s basis, reflecting upon elements of the conflict’s legacy.
On August 4th LIGHTS OUT takes place across the UK and invites a period of darkness from 10-11pm, with a single light or candle for reflection. Four artists have been commissioned to respond to this action – Jeremy Deller produced an app-based distribution of 4 films, released and viewable from 1st-4th August, whilst Bob and Roberta Smith uses community group contributions that respond to the artist’s letter to an unknown soldier, lit by candles outside Belfast city hall. In Wales and Scotland Bedwyr Williams and Nalini Malani also draw from the short period of darkness, using outdoor video projection against the immediate contemporary surroundings. Each project is representative and divisible by country yet exists under the same blanket, interrupting an encouraged darkness.
Another commission based in Northern Ireland is At Times Like These Men Were Wishing They Were All Kinds Of Insects, an exhibition by Graham Gingles at the MAC, Belfast. Responsive to written and physical remains and tokens of the time, it is a multi-faceted sculpture and sound installation. Ornate woodwork contrasts with an aged telegraph pole, wilting lilies, dead rats, and eroded mirrors. The broken church window frames have had a cleansing and unifying whitewash, and sit with their decorative glass still intact. Resembling something between a monument, a recreation and a mausoleum, the materials used have multiple timelines and fragilities. It is like a conflicted relic: a combination of how we choose to represent and remember, and the actual nature of physical remnants.
The temporary nature of these projects can ultimately allow for a less steadfast look at war’s heft and legacy. Artists cannot act as stand-in historians, and as such these works have the opportunity to move away from the preservation of romantic and removed notions of war that are gained in time, to seeking nuances in both personal and collective interpretation.
By not existing in living memory, the nature of WW1 has a certain unreality for all, except for legacy. Considered and self-reflective response makes this past all the more relevant, allowing us to think about how we remember the removed.