Article by Jo de Banzie - MA Photojournalism & Documentary Photography alumni, London College of Communication
This project by Jo de Banzie was funded by the LCC Graduate School Fund, a fund that encourages all postgraduate students at the College to develop their own ideas for exhibitions, events and activities that bring together the postgraduate community.
Hallowed Ground creates a discourse around private mourning during WW1, a subject that has seen renewed public interest since the 2018 centenary. The project explores the wounds of war through the re-remembering of a family story of loss. Based on historical research and acts of imagination, the work investigates and commemorates the death of two young men during the first Battle of Ypres, 1914. Linked through the soil of home and its antithesis, the battlefield, a place of war and death, the conflicting themes of nurture and destruction find expression in a series of works. Together they represent a pilgrimage, both in respect of place and process, where the violation of nature as a result of war, stands in stark contrast to the tenderness of a mother’s love.
In researching the story behind Hallowed Ground, I had been assisted by the London Scottish Regiment, who had also provided access to the battlefield artefacts which formed the Harvest series. My family story of loss became inseparable from the hundreds of similar tales evidenced in its archives, and as the culmination of a personal pilgrimage of remembrance, there was no more fitting place for its first solo showing; the Regiment’s historic Drill Hall in Pimlico offered a natural homecoming for the work.
One interesting development was how the choice of venue necessitated the evolution of the work itself. Staging the show within its historical host environment brought context to the fore and informed the decision to include the narrative behind the work as an integral part of the installation. By presenting the work together with the personal and historical framework that inspired it, the exhibition was able to unite the interests of two quite disparate audience, the traditional museum-goers and a more art-centric audience, something the curator and I were particularly keen to achieve.
The planning and staging of a solo show without the technical and advisory support of the university proved challenging, and a steep learning curve was required to navigate the design aesthetics, budget considerations, marketing and PR requirements, as well as a myriad of technical issues encountered. As a galleried and listed interior, it was neither possible nor desirable to attach artwork to walls and, moreover, the works themselves dictated an intimate, darkened space in which to view. Finding a way to work within the constraints of the venue’s architecture, whilst employing its emotive setting to maximum advantage, was a significant consideration in the planning process. In collaboration with a set designer, a semi-transparent structure was built to house the work; thematically sympathetic, the ‘ghost shed’ echoed the structure used to capture the pinhole battle-scape in the central work of Elegy. It offered a womb-like interior space suitable for hanging the art works, whilst the structure’s exterior walls provided a canvas for the telling of the story behind Hallowed Ground.
Funding came from a number of sources, including the London Scottish Regiment itself, and with generous assistance from the Graduate Fund. However, there was a substantial shortfall which was met personally, underlining the need to anticipate fully the financial requirements of a solo show. Whist the installation build soaked up much of the budget, the structure was designed in such a way as to be stored and re-erected for future exhibitions, rather than for a one-off event. This modular construction and functionality will allow the work to be seen in other venues, with little additional install expense.
Standing beside the Role of Honour which lists the names of the men for whom the work was made, the Drill Hall provided a particularly poignant setting. Held in early March 2019, the show was planned to coincide with the concluding WW1 centenary event hosted by The Scots in Great War London organisation. During the evening, I was introduced to their Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, and was able to explain the work and guide her around the installation. The event was attended by a further 200 guests representing a number of philanthropic social, educational and military groups, which afforded the opportunity to show the work to an eclectic audience. Following a private view, the exhibition remained open for a further week, during which time local schools and the public were encouraged to visit, and feedback has been very encouraging.
The staging of Hallowed Ground addressed the challenges faced by post-graduates in its collaborative and on-going approach to marketing existing work, and in making it available to a wider audience; specifically in finding ways of showing a body of work sympathetically and repeatedly in host environments. In this way, the project provided the opportunity to reflect on the importance of looking beyond meaning and aesthetic in the inception and creation of the work itself, by anticipating the context in which it will be presented and the cultural relevance for its intended audience.
Postgraduate students at the College can apply for up to £300 through the LCC Graduate School Student Fund. We are particularly interested in activities that cross college and discipline.