Friday, January 29, 2016

'And Age Shall Not Tarnish Them'

A design submission for the Ypres 1916-2016 Cenotaph project.

Ypres 2016 web site

Ypres Cenotaph Project

I have been working on the concept end of this potential design for some weeks now. This has included watching a lot of documentaries, researching the Ypres WW1 battles, and searching for original reference photographs.

Unique to this project is the level of group involvement.
Monument Design
British artist-blacksmith Terrence Clark is behind the overall design and concept.

What is missing from the concept design seen above is the mass of individual hand forged poppies, some 2000 in all. These will be massed over the base area at the foot of the slab. The individual flowers are being forged by blacksmiths, and the general public under their guidance, from all over the world.  The intent is to allow as many people as possible to be involved and make a personal contribution to the memorial.

The individual railing panels bounding the space are being produced by teams of working blacksmiths, largely as a public event over September 1 to 6, 2016, held at the central market square in Ypres itself. The overall design uses a total of 24 individual railing segments. Each uses a standard framing layout.
There are 12 longer panels. A select group of Master Smiths have been recruited to undertake the design and lead teams producing these pieces. 
There are 12 shorter panels (roughly 28 inches long by 26 inches tall). For these there is an open competition for design and team production.

Here is my submission:

'And Age Shall Not Tarnish Them'

Concept :

Mud, Wire and Gas. The intent is to capture a soldier’s view, from the ground, of these overwhelming elements of the battlefields of Ypres.

Three silhouettes represent the major combatants, one for each of Belgian/French, Allied/English, and German troops. Each is represented by their distinctive helmet and gas mask types, roughly life sized. Both sides in the the extended conflict would both undertake extensive poison gas attacks (first seen at Ypres), and issue troops with various protective masks. (The designs of the individual masks have been chosen for their distinctive appearance.) Almost featureless otherwise in their obscuring masks, individuals become anonymous, any single one standing for all. Any of them may have originally been driven to the armies at Ypres by national pride, seeking ‘adventure’, or fear of appearing cowardly to their peers. Quickly for all, the endless sea of mud, personal suffering, and too often useless struggling would wipe those ideals away. In the end, this left all the soldiers involved - ‘faceless’.
The soldier’s images are cut from heavy stainless steel sheet. This material endures with time - symbolic of the idea that in death all of their hopes and potential was frozen.  After a century, all that remains now is our vague concepts of the men from both sides, sure to be brighter than their personal realities.
The wide eye cut outs invite viewers to hunker down and peer through. The uncomfortable height is intended to transmit some appreciation of a soldier’s daily hardship. The low perspective and partially obscured view transmits different perspective of the battlefield.

Dividing the opposing sides is a line of barbed wire. The individual strands are supported on versions of the ‘screw picket’ uprights used by both sides. One has the slightly longer terminal post favoured by the English troops, the other the sorter cut top used by the Germans.
Placing the national identities on opposite sides of the wire is intended to remind that ‘On each of the end of the rifle, we are all the same’. For the soldiers at Ypres, death and hardship were identical, and the accident of geography would place them to one side of a barrier of wire or the other. The pickets are staggered slighly, intending to suggest the randomness and chaos of the battlefields. For the same reason, the three strands are warped and bowed, the placement of the individual barbs also random.

The wide lower bar is rippled and distorted. This to represent the sea of mud churned by the constant and massive artillery strikes. It would bear a line of dimples across its surface, representing scars from some blind machine gun fire.

It would be ideal to know the final placement of the completed panel, in terms of how it would relate to troop positions at the actual site. Ideally the final arrangement of cut out nationalities / picket styles would reflect the real situation on the ground.

At this point I have produced my scaled drawings for the design, and written the overall concept description above.

I still need to complete the submission : Technical Description / Artist Statement / Biography.

Deadline (original) is January 31. Because the time is so short, I though it possible to post the design openly.
I will certainly be interested in your comments / honest (!!) critiques. 


Steve Muhlberger said...

Your unique contribution strikes me as – unique! I hope to go back to say something more useful in a later date – I guess this weekend – I think you are on a productive track right here.

David Robertson said...

Concept is interesting and has background reference, but not a lot of forge work for a blacksmith focused competition. Good luck in the competition.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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