Pas de Deux in Charcoal and Helmand Province sand on paper, 2013 Movement vocabulary using poems by Friedrich Rückert, Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) by Gustav Mahler and Dark Elegies, ballet (1934) by Antony Tudor (close-up) 230cm x 100cm

Blue on White constitutes three works exploring the price of war dead using sand collected from the front line in Helmand Province 2008. 

Blue on White I - Past 
Blue on White II - Present 
Blue on White III - Future 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overview

We are dancing atoms of carbon - to paraphrase Primo Levi. Everything has movement, even 'nothing' at a quantum level moves with unimaginable vigor; so by extension, death becomes a different act in the minute, mysterious ballet of life. 

In applying contemporary choreographic dance technique and the expressive use of text, I employ a dynamic art form that explores this movement. 

How this molecular dance affects our perceptions of time is also something that intrigues; so the use of natural materials to form microscopic installations, infusing tangibility into our increasingly virtual world. 

All this, combined with the symbolic value of widely-perceived debris and ubiquitous natural elements such as sand, wood, ash and earth, provides a conceptual punch to induce some thought. 


The Trilogy

Blue on White I - (Past) memorial installation, various locations, 2008 - the power of place and the careful placement of seemingly worthless objects of emotional significance as living memory.

Blue on White II - (Present)   This work only exists in an artistic sense at auction. It consists of the Latin phrase: Quantum vendi potest - the thing is only worth what someone is prepared to pay.  The work on paper has a starting bid £542. It is hoped the incentive to increase the conceptual value of the human life it represents, keeps the work in the present and gaining worth.

Blue on White III - (Future) solo exhibition 18 November 3013 - 20 December 2013 at the New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge: ‘Art not intended for public display using words not intended to be read’ and available to be acquired only by the Government Art Collection.



 

About: Blue on White III,  2013 – a classified installation for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A 
 

This body of work examines contemporary art through a prism of the Government’s quantifiable value of life.

It is about making some harsh state-funded price comparisons after visiting the Government Art Collection exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2012 – the only British gallery to show Picasso’s Guernica. 

It is about the GAC Advisory Committee putting a value of £64,250 on an installation for the Ministry of Justice and in the same year, 2010, the Ministry of Defence valuing human life at just £542 – the compensation or solatia paid for a child accidentally killed in Afghanistan, a so-called Blue on White.* 

“….painting is not done to decorate apartments.” 
Picasso 


In a sterile, classified space, flickering with screens that convert the enemy into game play, the work asks whether there is room on the wall to publicly commission contemporary art that puts value and loss back into human beings, rather than decorate.

Art not for public view; but classified works that stem from classified thoughts of grief and humanity - it is hoped that after the exhibition at the New Hall Art Collection, Blue on White III will never be seen in a public art gallery again.

*source: The Guardian War Logs 

NOTE ON ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL: 
This exhibition takes Mahler’s choice of five songs and slightly re-arranges the order. As you go along the gallery wall, the works move from dark to light – a symbolic feature of the poetry. In respect of Ruckert’s wishes, the text is layered and largely hidden – just as music transcends literal meaning, the marks on paper move with anguish and vigour, in increasingly abstracted phrasing. 

Ruckert was a linguist of over 50 languages and he was an expert in oriental poetry. The structure of these lines – the repetition – lends itself well to the choreographic technique employed. 

Each piece is mix of both German and English, with certain lines resonating during a process of improvisation to form the whole. The exhibition was rehearsed beforehand on smaller scrolls and only completed the night before hanging at New Hall. Thus each work is fresh, created in an outburst of energy with a beginning, middle and an end. 

I studied at drama school before embarking on an interdisciplinary career.  To find the emotional truth in language is an important aspect in this training and one that resonates in my two dimensional work. 

Further reading on Ruckert’s text: 
Rushing, Randal. Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlieder: Subject and Textual Choices and Alterations of the Friedrich Rückert Poems, A Lecture Recital Together with Three Recitals of Selected Works of F. Schubert, J. Offenbach, G. Finzi, and F. Mendelssohn. Denton, Texas. UNT Digital

Library. digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3215/ 


NOTE ON THE SAND: 

The sand was flown back from the front line, Helmand province in 2008 by the British Army at my request. I am grateful and humbled. It was a time of intense fighting and was intended for a series of installations, honouring all and the emotional impact of combat at the National Army Museum, London.

At the time, there was a feeling by those who were putting their lives at risk that this was a forgotten war as the focus was very much on Iraq. Yet there were two wars; it was becoming background noise, costing trillions, profound grief and yet many were too removed to care.

Blue on White III asks to be purchased in the future for £542 by the GAC and then hidden away; to reach those who make life or death decisions in private and safety. 



 

© 2019 all content copyright Martha Haversham.