In May 1916, 20 year-old Rifleman Barney Griew wrote from the Western Front: ‘I am quite happy with my scout job. To tell the truth I almost feel safer in front of than directly behind the trenches.
“I maintain that if a man gets hit, it’s either his own fault, or destiny’.
Changing the Landscape, an ambitious visual arts installation by British artist Sarah Kogan, is a profoundly personal and deeply poignant exploration of the cataclysmic destruction: physical, emotional and psychological wrought by the Battle of the Somme, 1916. Supported by public funding from The National Lottery through Arts Council England, it was the first contemporary exhibition held at The National Archives, UK.
The exhibition, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme on 18 November 1916, can be seen in the iconic Wolfson Reading Room at Manchester Central Library until March 2017.
The project follows furniture-maker Barney’s first hand account of his journey from Hackney, London to Yiddish Street trench in northern France, training to become a mapmaker and scout in the five months preceding his death on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
During this journey, Barney sent home over 180 illustrated letters, photographs and photographic postcards, often writing more than three times a day for five months, leaving us a unique, multifaceted, three dimensional view of the run up to the Battle of the Somme. Unusually this unpublished archive is interpreted by Barney’s great niece, Kogan, who was originally read the letters as a child by her grandmother, Barney’s sister Fanny.
The exhibition consists of an installation of twelve purpose-built display tables which include items and extracts of text from Barney’s archive, artworks generated by Kogan in response to his archive, material from The National Archives and a specially commissioned video installation, Palimpsest, by Jeremy Bubb. The tables allude to coffins or the white markers of a war cemetery, whilst seeking to archive the contemporary and contemporise the archival. By viewing the work from above, we unwittingly assume the same perspective as Griew whilst mapmaking on the Western Front, in addition to First World War reconnaissance photography.
Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman, said: “This fascinating exhibition will be of huge interest to all visitors to Central Library and is a very fitting way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme.”
The exhibition runs from 24 October 2016 – 3 March 2017, in the Wolfson Reading Room, First Floor, Manchester Central Library.