Last week I accompanied my father to a summer’s evening concert at Snape Maltings. I am old enough (just) to remember being driven past the old Maltings when it was being converted into a concert venue from 1965 to 1967. It was one of the earliest examples of an industrial building being repurposed for arts use. The whole site has expanded considerably over the intervening five decades. As well as the main concert hall there is now the smaller Britten Studio, rehearsal rooms, cafes, restaurants and bars, holiday accommodation and a variety of retail outlets including the Snape Antiques Centre and The Maltings Gallery.
All round Snape Maltings has pitched itself as a cultural centre and as such hosts visiting art installations that are placed amongst permanent works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
When I was at the Maltings back in June, for a sublime performance by Vox Luminis as part of the the Aldeburgh Festival, a fitting installation was on display called ‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms) by Ryan Gander.
Last week, we saw another art installation had joined ‘To Give Light’. Round the other side of the Concert Hall, near the main entrance, there is a slightly raised mound between the Maltings and the River Alde. Set on the lawn, unmissable and incongruous, currently stands a fisherman’s hut complete with ‘A’ board pavement signs.
However, there’s nobody selling fish from this hut. Instead, a small crowd of carved people trapped inside the hut gaze out at our world in dismay at the polluted and damaged oceans. (This work was originally sited on Aldeburgh Beach facing out across the North Sea. It had been commissioned for the Siren Festival, Aldeburgh.)
The pavement advertising boards draw our attention to the plight of marine mammals and
the sign written boards hanging on the hut further detail many of the shocking facts regarding the precarious state of the oceans.
‘Siren’ is an ecological art installation that disturbs and informs. It is the type of intriguing and evocative work that affirms a place for visual culture within the wider environmental discourse.
From 2014 to 2018 there have been and will be a number of different moments when people remember and commemorate the tragedy that was the First World War. For military historians the 15th September 1916 saw the first use of tanks on a battlefield. Tanks were deployed and active in the fighting at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. This battle was part of the long and infamous Battle of the Somme that had begun over two months before. It is hard for us to appreciate 100 years later the desperation of those times. Nobody could have imagined in 1914, at the beginning of the war, that two years later 19,240 British soldiers would lose their lives on the fist day of any battle, but that is what happened at the Somme on the 1st July 1916.
Remembering heroes, battles and wars is part of human culture. How we commemorate various aspects of World War One says as much about how we view war, violence and sacrifice today as it does about how we think about the horror and carnage of the past. Perhaps somewhere an artist is marking the arrival of the tank into warfare, but it is a tricky subject. Today we don’t want glorification. National memorials are seldom hard, enduring sculptures instead they are fleeting events or services, or, ephemeral installations attempting to capture the vast, incomprehensible loss of life. Such an art project was the ‘19240 Shrouds of the Somme’ by Rob Heard that was set out in the Northernhay Gardens in Exeter, Devon.
19240 Shrouds of the Somme – commemoration 1 July 2016
First day of the Battle of the Somme commemoration. Northernhay, Exeter, UK
The work showed 19,240 figurines each laid out in its own handmade shroud. The artist obtained the seven volumes of the War Graves Commission’s lists of those who died on the 1st July 1916 and recited each soldier’s name as he wrapped a figurine in its shroud and crossed that name off the list.
The overall work has a desperate, poignant appearance and the scale allows the observer to see each discrete form, each individual death, repeated over and over again. It isn’t remotely pretty – why should it be. It is marking a terrible event. The work looks wretched, pitiful and sorrowful without being sentimental. It works in all the ways that the over-hyped, simplistic and incredibly sentimental ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ did not. That was the poppy installation that filled the Tower of London moat with gaudy, ceramic poppies in a trite representation of the carnage of war.