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What Need of Tears? Collaborative memorial-making in the centenary of The Great War.

Dixon, Stephen (2018) What Need of Tears? Collaborative memorial-making in the centenary of The Great War. In: Curating the Great War. Routledge. (In Press)

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Abstract

During the centenary of the Great War the UK has witnessed an upsurge of memorialisation, from focused local initiatives to art installations on an epic scale, with contemporary artists questioning conventional attitudes to commemoration and re-thinking traditional forms of public memorial. Exemplary and high-profile acts of memorialisation have embraced public spectacle (Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea, 2018) performance and public engagement (Jeremy Deller’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, 2016) the evocative language of materials (Cornelia Parker’s War Rooms, 2015) and the emotive resonance of archive material (Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old, 2018). At the same time, many more centenary projects have directly engaged the public, working at a local, grass-roots level, to engage individuals and communities in collaborative acts of memorialisation. Within this context, ceramicist Stephen Dixon and film-maker Johnny Magee, both of Manchester School of Art, have collaborated on a number of commemorative curatorial projects with museums in Staffordshire. These projects have set out to examine our relationship to conflict and its commemoration, engaging with collections and exploiting the mnemonic resonance of historic artefacts. The projects are linked by their connection to the specific locality of Staffordshire, and to the Staffordshire Potteries’ historic material connection to ceramics. Dixon and Magee operated as artists and curators for the exhibitions Resonance (2015), Resonate (2015-2016), The Lost Boys (2016), Passchendaele: Mud and Memory (2017) and Refugee Tales (2017-2019). Collectively, these five projects aimed to employ the emotive agency of collections, archives and excavated objects, to engage cultural memory and to examine and commemorate specific issues of conflict. These issues were encountered in the First World War but are also relevant to our own times, from the plight of refugees to the exploitation of under-age soldiers. Each of the exhibitions resulted in some form of memorial, sometimes in the form of an artefact, sometimes in the form of a film, often collaborative and often temporary. In addition, each of these projects featured a significant element of direct public participation in the resulting artworks and exhibitions, and this is an aspect which gained in importance as the projects developed. The following chapter outlines each of these exhibitions, and explains how an iterative methodology of co-creation was instigated and tested over the course of the five curatorial projects.

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