Passchendaele: Mud and Memory
A solo exhibition at The National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, 8 July to 19 November 2017, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, and focusing on the ability of battlefield objects, artefacts and materials to conjure up a mnemonic resonance of time, place and experience.
The Battle of Passchendaele is remembered as one of the most cruel and futile of campaigns, even by the terrible standards of World War 1, fought in the cloying mud of western Flanders. An estimated 150,000 soldiers from both sides perished in the mud and rain of Passchendaele.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a large portrait sculpture, made from terracotta clay
sourced from the Wienerberger quarry and brickworks, located on the battlefield site at Zonnebeke. The portrait is an ‘everyman’, an assemblage of features from soldiers of the many nations who fought and died at Passchendaele, and is based on photographs of individual soldiers sourced in the Passchendaele Memorial Museum archives.
Three display cases in the exhibition examine material resonance from a curatorial perspective: each of the showcases represents one of the main combatant nations, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, and contains excavated battlefield artefacts and items of contemporary popular culture, from the collections of the Passchendaele Memorial Museum and from the artist’s own collection. These include pianola rolls, romantic song postcards and objects which carry poignant, personal associations; a pair of glasses, a penknife, a harmonica, a cigarette lighter, a wristwatch, a pocket shrine. The similarity of the objects in these installations emphasises the commonality of experience shared by soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Related to the objects in the showcases is an installation of 108 facsimile Navy and Army Canteen Board plates, printed with drawings from the excavated artefacts, and made by museum visitors and volunteers during the exhibition.