Showing posts with label Imperial War Museum London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Imperial War Museum London. Show all posts

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Unofficial War Artist: IWM

I have seen the Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London, several times with all sorts of people. First chatting around it with colleagues, then alone with a notebook preparing a tour, then as keen mum with my 18 year old son and finally talking and touring through the exhibition with visitors to the IWM.  

Peter Kennard's work is explicitly political. Politics of the left. "He has quite a bit to say about Bush and Blair", I forewarn American visitors. "And we will probably agree with him", they smile at me.

Age 19, as a student at the Slade school of art in 1968, the time of the anti Vietnam War protests, Kennard began to bring art and politics together producing a series of large gelatine prints, STOP. Talking about gelatine prints, a now defunct printing process, elicits a knowing nod from some older visitors.

Kennard took photos from current (at the time) newspapers of political events, and overlaid them with abstract marks. Taking familiar shocking and powerful images and making them unfamiliar and disorientating. Reflecting on this work and remembering those times, American visitors recognise and point out protests that happened back home.

Peter Kennard curated this exhibition alongside IWM curators. He made these boards specially to display an archive of his posters produced for different protest groups and organisations.

The exhibition includes an archive of Kennard's work from the 1970s, filling a whole room. It includes work he did as a student, experiments in sketchbooks, which I'm keen to point out to my newly-started-at-art-college son. "This is work he began at 19, you'll be 19 in 6 months time" I enthuse.

I had been nagging him to see the Peter Kennard exhibition as soon as I had seen it, even promising him the book. Not until, "mum, they (art college) have told us to see that exhibition where you work", did he agree to meet me and see it together.
"It's really good".
Exasperated... "Yes! I knew you'd like it, that's why I said come and see it".
I might be from another generation, but I get it.

Kennard was known for his photo-montages, a process that became associated with protest art. This was pre-digital, requiring scissors, knives and sellotape, prompting both political stirrings and affection for good old craft skills. 

Kennard's work provokes comment, causing visitors to speak their thoughts out loud, sometimes without meaning to.

Particularly this piece from 1982, using Constable's Haywain to comment on the missile base in East Anglia.
"He's a pacifist! But that's against everything the Imperial War Museum stands for! Why is he in an exhibition here?"
I don't think she meant to blurt this out as I was speaking but something just clicked. I explained that the IWM was not here to comment, but it has always been part of its remit to collect art to tell stories of war and conflict.
However, when you put objects in a museum they give off messages, intentionally or otherwise. Putting objects in a museum does kind of give them status that if you'd just left them rusting in the back of a garage they might not otherwise have had. But we all see things differently. For me, that cart looks so fragile under the weight of those cruise missiles. How fragile does life look under the threat of any missile?

Another visitor, "...ahead of his time, he saw that coming, the NHS." This was made in the 1980s.

"Getting the work out into the world and used is as important as its production", says Peter Kennard. Hence we see his work on badges and T-shirts as well as posters and pamphlets. 

What strikes you about Kennard's work is that you don't need a degree in art history to understand it. His images are readable, recognisable. This is not to make less of his work, to say that it is simple, but in fact to make more of his work. He asks questions, challenges the viewer, and gets you to think. In fact Peter Kennard doesn't call himself an artist, but a communicator. Like he says, he has got his "work out into the world", made it readable and understandable. Good communication.  

'Reading Room' is based on Kennards trips to Paddington Library as a child, to read the day's newspapers. People's faces photocopied onto financial pages from newspapers from around the world, unknown faces and stock market figures. A colleague and I find this moving, powerful. The faces are quite beautiful. What impact has the stock market had on their unknown lives? 

On the tour, I ask people to squeeze down a narrow corridor to look at  a series of paintings called 'Face'.

No-one minds the squash, not to contemplate these haunting faces. Faces that merge in and out of darkness, no mouths, no language, mute, therefore universally understood. Sometimes you don't need words.  

The last room in the exhibition has been made specially for it. A kind of mini retrospective of nearly 50 years of work. An installation where Kennard reflects on the financial and human cost of war.

'Boardroom' where Kennard brings us statistics on the handrail.

I spend time with my son reading these statistics. Some are not new.
"I knew that", but it still doesn't lessen the impact.

One visitor comments, "How long has this exhibition been here? He will have to update that now with the refugee crisis, ...perhaps on a daily basis."  

 "...and how many have been used. He should have said that."

This is an exhibition to make you think beyond the work. It has a been a privilege to see it with many different people, to have the opportunity to reflect on it with them and hear what they have to say. Not least was the opportunity to spend time with my 18 year old. It doesn't happen that much anymore, one to one, doing something we both enjoy.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is free and is on at the Imperial War Museum, London until 30 May 2016. Free admission. See the Imperial War Museum website for gallery tours.
Take an 18 year old.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Fashion on the Ration

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, with the disruption of everyday life, fear of an imminent gas attack and invasion, and resources thrown into the war effort, people wondered if fashion would just 'go away'. But quite the opposite happened, clothing and fashion adapted to the time, retailers saw new opportunities, people made do and mended, the British government got involved and mass manufacture became more efficient, producing price regulated, decent quality clothes for all.
The exhibition, 'Fashion on the Ration' tells this story at the Imperial War Museum, London.  

The fashion landscape changed, more uniforms were seen on the streets, both the armed forces and women's auxiliary services. Some uniforms were more desirable than others which swayed people's decisions about signing up. 
The air force uniform was considered very smart, the men named the 'Brylcreem boys'. 

Apart from school, I've never worn a uniform, except perhaps for this one, for a very short time, in the Girl-Guides.
Like these Girl-Guides taking part in a fund raising parade in 1941.

If you hadn't signed up and been issued a uniform, there was a kind of home front uniform.
The housecoat, worn to protect your hard-to-replace everyday clothes. Funny how I've grown up thinking that a housecoat was kind of dressing gown.

Housecoats increased in popularity. These housecoats look to good to do the housework in. I wouldn't be drying my hands on them like I do with my grubby kitchen apron.

And aircraft factory overalls in Manchester weren't that bad either.

Retailers saw opportunities and jumped on the bandwagon, creating clothes and accessories for war conditions.

Like the 'Siren Suit'. Perfect for pulling on over your nightie for that middle of the night dash to the air raid shelter. This even has a drop down flap at the rear for convenience. Mind you how convenient was the lavatory back at the house when you were ensconced in a shelter down the garden? 

And luminous accessories for the Blackout. Buttons and flowers.
Plus checkout these handbags with gas mask compartments. 

Or you could just take the government's advice and wear something white, cheaper that way. This wasn't just a gimmick, one in five people were injured in the blackout. 

In 1941 rationing was introduced. Food had been rationed for over a year. The government wanted to safeguard raw material and free up labour and factory space for the war effort. The rationing of clothes was successful in ensuing decent quality, durable, price regulated supplies for all, resulting in clothes being distributed more fairly.  

You were issued with 66 coupons and a dress was 11. So the public were encouraged to 'Make Do and Mend'. This was the bit of the exhibition I was really looking forward to.

Two Sussex dressmakers made this from scraps.

Perhaps inspired by 'Woman'.

This dressing gown was made from an RAF silk 'escape map'. Surplus maps were sold off to the public in 1945.

Then you could also knit for yourself.

Fairisle was a 'useful for using up scraps of different coloured wool'. So they say, I reckon fairisle is more complicated and planned than that. I could well be wrong. 

'Make Do and Mend' has been embraced recently, capturing some kind of romantic nostalgic attitude to crafts and recycling, but this official rhetoric was not particulalrly liked at the time.

This wedding dress was made from pre-war silk intended for petticoats. It was first worn by Evelyn Higginson in 1943, who later lent it to fourteen other women, including her sister Linda in 1946.

I came to Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum with a little idea how the Second World War had impacted fashion in the forties, influenced by necessity, the need to protect what clothes they had, newly available jobs in the factories, lack of raw materials and the like. The most surprising thing I found out was that the government, in regulating the use of rubber, one of the rarest of commodities in war time, prioritised the use of elastic for women. 'Women's knickers were one of few garments where the use of elastic was allowed'.
Don't get to excited though, here's a pair of  'Utility peach rayon knickers'.

Fashion on the Ration is on at the Imperial War Museum, London until 31st August 2015.
Details on their website here.

Before they are accused of a one-sided look at fashion and clothing in the Second World War. There were men's garments and accessories, I just don't seem to have taken any photos of them.  

Friday, 26 December 2014

Five on Friday: Christmas drink anyone?

Taking five minutes to enjoy five things...

Christmas drink anyone?
I offer you...

at The fan Museum, Greenwich.

on HMS Belfast,
issued daily, 'Up Spirits'.

on the roof of the Brunel Museum.
You'll have to wait until the summer, served by Midnight Apothecary.

Gather round the table for a cuppa in the Second World War
at the Imperial War Museum, London.
Served in the Allpress family's model home
in the Family in Wartime gallery.

Or share your favourite tipple with a friend,
a Viking horn cup each from
The British Museum,
Sutton Hoo Gallery.

I am joining in with Amy with Five on Friday, taking five minutes from our day to enjoy five things.
Please visit the five others who are also blogging about Five on Friday this week.

Want to know more about The Fan Museum, HMS Belfast,
the Brunel Museum and Vikings at the British Museum?
Click on the links below to read my previous posts about them.
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