Chair: Sabrina de Turk, St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia
Jonathan Black, Kingston University
‘The Face of Death/Faces of the Dead’: Memory and the Ideal in Images of the Dead of the First World War in British Inter-War Memorial Sculpture.
In his novel Death of the Hero (1929) veteran of the trenches Richard Aldington described how his hero found the faces of the dead scattered across the battlefield peculiarly compelling. Some appeared to be asleep, some appeared to be trying to ask a question while the features of others were contorted in the most appalling ways. (Aldington, 1929/2013) By the time Aldington’s novel had been published a surprising number of British war memorials included representations of dead British soldiers – often in proximity to female figures symbolic of Britannia or angles conducting the departed to an Anglican heaven. The proposed paper will consider examples of such sculpture by artists such as John Millard, for his war memorial unveiled in 1921 in the Cheshire milltown of Macclesfield; Ferdinand Blundstone – his extraordinary memorial for the headquarters of the Prudential Assurance Company in Holborn – unveiled in 1922 and W.C.H. King’s memorial to the dead of the Dover and Chatham Railway in the now moribund Dover’s Maritime Station, unveiled in 1924. (Archer, 2009). Analysis will be offered as to how such images and the distinct and revealing gender roles they perpetuated were processed by different elements within the target audiences for whom these memorials were commissioned. (Black, 2010). Focus will also be directed at those memorials commissioned by military organisations that presented soldiers who had unambiguously died in battle – sometimes their features are visible, sometimes all the more disturbing for being concealed by a calculated item of clothing as is the case respectively for Philip Lindsay Clark’s Cameronians Memorial in Kelvingrove Gardens, Glasgow, unveiled in 1924, and Charles Sargeant Jagger’s Dead Gunner for the Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park Corner, London, unveiled in 1925 (Compton, 2004). Such work will be discussed for what they reveal as to how this imagery was absorbed, evaluated and processed in different ways by spectators who were veterans of the trenches as opposed to civilians, or men who had not served in the war as a consequence of age or wartime occupation.
Aldington, Richard (2013). Death of a Hero. London: Penguin. (Originally published in 1929).
Archer, Geoffrey (2009). The Glorious Dead: Figurative Sculpture of British First World War Memorials. London: Frontier Publishing.
Black, Jonathan (2010). ‘Manifold Instruments of Carnage’: Visualising Weaponry and Charles Sargeant Jagger’s Memorial to the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Hyde Park Corner, London (1921-25).’ In The Journal of War and Culture Studies September 2010, ISSN: 1752-6272.
Compton, Ann (2004). The Sculpture of Charles Sargeant Jagger Aldershot: Lund Humphries.
Sandra Križić Roban, Institute Of Art History, Zagreb
The Age of Monuments: Sculptural, Architectural, Urbanistic, and Other Ways of Commemorating the Homeland War in Croatia
Monumental sculpture as a specific sculptural genre has proven with time to be an ideal artistic medium for interpreting myths and indicating the greatness and importance of an individual or a group whose heroic deeds should not fall into oblivion. Materializing memory is a sensitive category, which requires complex and fast archival procedures in order not to forget the details and essential facts about the events and personalities in question. The theme of monuments commemorating the Homeland War appeared at the time of “overall exhaustion of the modernist concept of abstract, symbolical form of modernism” (Kolešnik), which characterized most European art from the 1980s onwards. But whereas in Europe one encounters the notions of “counter-monuments” and “anti-monuments”, as well as a number of conceptually provoking solutions of minimalistic rhetoric, the intense monumentalization strongly suggests the trend of preserving the exhausted modernist concept.
Today’s monumental heritage has an opportunity to link memory to history and materialize recent events on the basis of free evolution of artistic ideas that it has inherited. Contrary to that, the commemorative objects related to the Homeland War testify of appropriation and uniform usage of public space, so that one often comes across monuments that fail to interact with their surroundings, treating the passers-by as passive observers. Their number and typological features reveal the beaurocratic process of archivization and the institutionalization of memory, whereby solutions that would invite the spectator to grasp the event directly, without the mediation of monumental gesture, seem to be discouraged.
The specific and powerful ideological charge, which in the inter pretation of artists after World War II was often expressed through abstract monuments with the universal, symbolic significance (such as victory, freedom, or progress), which was present in all European countries including Yugoslavia, is a heritage testifying of a singular history, common goal, and the unique events that had to be remembered. With time, however, many of these monumental sites became a part of “unwanted heritage” (A. Riegl), which irritated the newly formed political regimes and altered state formations of Eastern Europe by reminding them of the ruined or abandoned (ideological) values. National monumental heritage should testify of the free development of artistic ideas, yet in the past fifteen years there are few examples that question the attitude towards the process and method of commemoration in a modern way. Most of the already existing ones rely on the use of established, ancient symbols with messages that are universal, but their visual language is reactionary, since it addresses the viewers as passive observers rather than active participants in common space and time.
Bevan, Robert (2007). The Destruction of Memory. Architecture at War. London: Reaction Books.
Kolešnik, Ljiljana (2006/2007). Između tradicije i dekonstrukcije. Problemi suvremenih spomenika žrtava holokausta. Klanjec: Anali Galerije Antuna Augustinčića.
Krauss, Rosalind E. (1999). Passages in Modern Sculpture. Cambridge&London: MIT Press.