Art is a universal language. There are times when the visual speaks far more eloquently than the verbal, especially when what needs to be expressed is difficult to articulate. The trauma and loss caused by war is one such example. Last year, an art installation in Penshurst Church entitled ‘There But Not There’, shouted loudly into the silence. Its significance was such that it is going to be repeated this year and there are ambitious plans for extending and developing it for the commemoration of the Armistice next year. Mandy Carr explains why this exhibition is so important.
Each year many people attend services up and down the country to remember those who have served their country in a time of war. In churches, at war memorials, and at the Cenotaph people gather to pay their respects to the fallen and to remember and to pray for those who still serve in the armed forces. It is a time of reflection, of counting the cost and pursuing all that makes for peace.
These last few years we have been commemorating the Great War (1914-18). It started with the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ consisting of 888,246 ceramic poppies pouring out of the Tower of London to represent each life lost. Last year’s ‘There But Not There’ was a local installation that made a big impact on those who came to see it. It was the inspiration of Martin Barraud, a conceptual photographer and resident of Penshurst. It featured life-sized transparent figures to represent each of the war dead in the parish.
The photographs don’t do the installation justice. It has to be experienced. It was deeply moving to be among the individual forms that were sitting in their parish church where many may well have sat when they were alive. Their shapes may have given substance to the person they represented, but the fact that they were transparent also gave them a ghostly appearance, reminding us that they were once part of their community and then, suddenly they were gone, never to return.
By each figure there was the soldiers name; a tribute to his loyalty and sacrifice and a reminder of how whole families were decimated by the Great War. The aim in Penshurst was to take the names off the wall and back into the village psyche and anyone who visited the installation last year knows that this is exactly what Martin and his team achieved.
The art installation attracted media attention and there were calls to roll the idea out in time for the centenary of the Armistice in 2018, so other communities could join in. The project has now grown to become a nationwide installation for the Fallen. A Charity has been formed with the Patron, General The Lord Dannatt GCB CBE MC DL. The plan is to install silhouettes of the Fallen wherever they are listed and to place life-sized representations of a Tommy Figure in many public places for the Armistice Period.
The project also plans to educate all generations about why many made the ultimate sacrifice and raise substantial funds to help heal those suffering from the hidden wounds of war. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will design and produce the education packs.
More information about the project can be found at https://www.therebutnotthere.org.uk/
The significance of this installation lies in the fact that it embodies the human cost of war. Each figure is a representation of someone’s father, someone’s brother, someone’s son. It brings their humanity closer. Each person is acknowledged, not hidden in the generalities or statistics of war. We already give honour in our services to each individual as we read out their name, but seeing that name represented by a figure creates a different impact altogether. It closes the gap between us and creates a discomfort that makes the act of remembrance more real.
‘There But Not There’ delivers a powerful punch – lest we forget the horrors of war and its cost to the individual, the family and the local community.
The installation will be open to the public from the 2nd-15th November at the Church of St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Tonbridge, TN11 8BN