Talking about the Great War and Making Art

Reflective Journal

Ipswich and the Armistice: unlocking the hidden history of the town

28 August 2018

Since mid June I have been working with Ipswich Museum on a project to commemorate the centenary of The Great War. Ipswich and the Armistice is a community project that explores how local people responded to the ending of the war in Ipswich at the time and how, today, local people feel about the First World War one hundred years later. The artist-led community project works with local schools, community groups and care homes to re-tell this story in a unique creative way contrasting historical facts with contemporary viewpoints to produce a short collage animation.

Workshops at Care Homes

During July and August I have been delivering workshops at primary and secondary schools and care homes. The aim of the workshops are to unlock any family stories of WWI, record audio and create artwork for the film.  I visited three care homes including Anchor St Marys, The Orwell and Spring Lodge.

We discussed WWI and the Armistice Day at Ipswich and created designs for flags and bunting. It was lovely to meet people aging from 73 to 103 years old. I had some interesting but sad stories about animals at war, men losing limbs and some members not coming home. One lady talked in length about the war and her viewpoints including her father being a vet and seeing all the horrid things that happened to the animals. She was very valuable to the audio of the film as I wanted to show the truth of warfare and not glorify it. An example of her dialogue was ‘People think wars are glorious but it isn’t. It’s just horrid. It kills lots of people and injures many’.

I recorded lots of dialogue and chose excerpts that would be appropriate for the narrative of the film. I also ask them to sing the National Anthem but it was hard work to say God Save the King instead of Queen to be appropriate for the era!

Anchor St Mary Care Home

Workshops at Secondary School

I also delivered two workshops at Copleston High School. The first was to year 7 class. Firstly we talked about the project, WWI, Armistice Day at Ipswich and posters that were used in the war. We talked about what were the challenges on the home front and frontline such as saving food, recruiting men, women replacing men’s jobs and raising war funds. I showed the pupils examples and asked them to design a poster.

This was a really good way of getting them to think about war. I was particularly drawn to the wording of one poster which stated ‘War affected us in ways that are impossible to understand’.

The next workshop at Copleston High School was delivered to year 9. I wanted to create a film inspired by Dada collages. This was an art movement formed during WWI in Zurich reacting negatively to the horrors and folly of war. I was interested in works by Hannah Hoch and Raoul Hausmann and asked the class to create exquisite corpses using collage and mark making. The process involves dividing the paper into three and creating figures such as the head for the first part, body and legs for the others.

Firstly I talked about the war, Armistice Day and figure that would be involved in the war including fighting men, nurses, children, other women and animals. I gave them examples of Dada work and war figures as well as relevant collage materials including type. We timed each section and asked them to move the paper around the class so that another student would create the next section. I wanted the students to fill the page and be creative, thinking about what they were thinking and what is around them.

The results were wonderful with very thoughtful pieces such as ‘we walk through the bodies of soldiers’, a human war I [horse] was forced into’ and ‘even now we stand together as a country, as a union’. I also recorded a few pupils as asked them about their posters and why they created what they did. Examples included ‘wars are like a place of destruction that’s not really needed’, I don’t like how everyone dies. I really don’t like war’ and ‘they walked to their death, they came out alive but still in a bit of pain’.

The feedback from the teachers include ‘it has been utterly fantastic experience and our pupils have got so much out of it’ and ‘it was great to do something so creative’.

Workshop at Primary School

The last workshop was delivered in Grundisburgh Primary School. I asked the class to design bunting and flags after talks about the war and Armistice Day.  I also recorded them by asking them to describe the war and Armistice Day. This would be very helpful for narrating some of the film.

The artwork of flags, bunting and posters are planned to be included in the film. Here’s an example of the posters.

What next?

In my next blog I would like to talk about the development of the film and taking inspiration from the Dada movement. I would also liked to mention the narrative and the people I have been talking to.

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