Review of Truth and Memory at The Imperial War Museum

This is a fascinating exhibition featuring some of the most famous images from British war artists in World War I. The pictures so much inform our idea of how trench warfare was that it is difficult to imagine how shocking they must have been to their first audience. Futurism with its subtext of ‘humanity subsumed by the machinery of war’ [IWM text] produced pictures which vibrate with anger and despair and their titles punctuate that purpose with an exclamation mark! Nash’s desolate landscape entitled ‘We are making a bright new world’ or Nevinson’s bleak painting of dead soldiers, ‘Paths of Glory’, are raw with emotion and were even occasionally banned by the ministry as unhelpful propaganda. The relationship between war artists and government has to be an uneasy one – that would make a fascinating dissertation topic…which is a particularly interesting point in the context of the exhibition, which separates in different rooms works of ‘truth’ and works of ‘memory’. I preferred the ‘Truth’ section as it felt more directly from the experience of war but how much is my taste governed by the fact that our contemporary culture values the instant, the immediate rather than the mature and considered reflection of ‘memory’?

I absolutely recommend a visit if you get a chance. It raises all kinds of questions and, as with the best exhibitions, doesn’t provide any of the answers. Personal favourites were a series called ‘Dance of Death’ by Percy Delf Smith. Finishes 8 March.

 

Blog from Venice

Venice in February, I can report with authority, is very wet. It hasn’t stopped raining since I got here and it has also flooded every day with the tides.  On the up side, there aren’t too many tourists so you can get about.  And, amazingly, it is still beautiful.  I am living here for a fortnight staying with a girlfriend who is a writer, which makes for a very peaceful co-existence.

What to say about Venice that hasn’t already been said?  Similar dilemma to ‘what to draw of Venice that hasn’t already been drawn?’  Some disconnected impressions then: my room is in the eaves above a narrow calle or street and, because there is no traffic noise, I can hear people’s footsteps and neighbourly chat, and the pigeons murmuring on the roof tiles. Most evocative, I can hear church bells which chime the hour and call dwindling congregations to worship.  The sound has a melancholy about it, just slightly out of tune.f

There are churches around every corner, over every bridge and they are large, once imposing spaces, some restored, some quite crumbly.  I went in to our local one on my way home yesterday and it is almost entirely decorated with amazing trompe l’oeil by Veronese.  Names that are hugely protected and cherished at home are just going mouldy on walls in damp buildings here.

More prosaically, apart from around St Marks, there are very few signs and the place really is like a maze so finding your way is quite challenging.  Yesterday’s visit was to the Guggenheim which had some wonderful Brancusi, and a magnificent Jean Arp which has provided me with great inspiration for some carving.

if there is anybody out there of a praying nature, could you please put one up for at least one fine day so I can go and visit some of the islands…

PS I will put some photos up when I get home as I can’t work out how to do it on my iPad.