With many thanks to blog reader and artist Rebecca Hearle for this, the first of two posts, about her trip to the Salient and the art it inspired her to create.
Before my visit to Flanders I had hoped to read the signs of the war on the landscape; to still see fields marked with trench lines, redoubts and bomb craters. I also expected Flanders to be a similarly flat and open landscape like my home landscape of the Fens. However, Ieper’s landscape is more picture-book like; rolling hills and small farmsteads reminiscent of childhood toy farms. Apparently, before modern farming techniques it was quite possible to see the trace of the trenches on the landscape but now, with deeper ploughing, the landscape itself is forgetting.
My original idea had been to superimpose period photographs of the Great War landscape, using the process of photo-lithography onto my own linocut images of the present day landscapes. However, this didn’t fit with what I had found, the landscape just didn’t marry up to the old images anymore and nor would that approach communicate what I experienced.
I returned home with no idea of what to make. I felt that I could not just make linocuts of the landscape as it now hid the War so well; it would just be fields or woods, conventional landscapes that could be anywhere. I definitely could not make images of the landscape how it had been during and after the fighting. That had been done by War artists such as C R W Nevinson, Paul Nash, John Nash and Otto Dix, artists who had experienced first-hand those great and terrible battlefields. I felt I do not have the right to make those kinds of images and that nobody alive today does.
There are few physical remains now, but what is there is a landscape of words. To cycle The Salient is to encounter name upon name; Flemish names; Ieper, French names; Ypres, German names; Ypern and English names; Wipers. Names of CWGC War graves; Woods Cemetery, The Bluff Cemetery, Hedge Row Trench Cemetery, finger-post after finger-post and of course in those cemeteries and on those memorials the names of the dead, so many names.
What I decided to do was to map the journey, every road and pathway cycled or walked in and around Ieper during our stay. I carefully traced our journeys using the modern-day map of Ieper that had guided our visit. This tracing was then divided up and enlarged to make eleven separate sheets. The images were reversed and transferred on to blocks of lino and cut away; I printed each different block in varying tones of grey.
These lino prints were then overprinted, using photo-lithographic plates which had been etched with hand-drawn texts of place names, place markers, cemeteries and quotes, with which I’m trying to communicate the written and over written nature of the place.
I scoured many different sources for the texts. An assortment of maps were used; the tourist’s maps we had used whilst cycling, a modern facsimile of the Ypres Area trench maps as used by the British, and even a German map that the author Edmund Blunden took as a souvenir from a pillbox near St. Julien that now is archived with his papers at the University of Texas.The typographic style for the text, though it was hand drawn, was inspired by a the Michelin book Ypres and the Battles of Ypres which is a tour guide produced in 1919 as part of their Illustrated Michelin Guides to the Battle-Fields (1914-1918) series.
I read WWI poetry, prose and memoirs including the invaluable Undertones of War (Edmund Blunden was stationed near Ypres), the moving All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernst Jünger’s brutal memoir Storm of Steel.
On one map I indicate the place of the Yorkshire Trench, a preserved trench that we visited on our second day with a quote from Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quite on the Western Front; “The dugout shakes, and the night is all roars and flashes. We look at each other in the moments of light, and shake our heads, our faces pale and our lips pressed tight.” In this way, by using a quote from German source to illustrate the experience in a British trench, I wanted to show the equality of experience; that, regardless of nationality, to sit in a dugout during a bombardment was terrifying.
The maps were displayed in a group show with other MA Printmaking and MA Fine Art students from Anglia Ruskin in the temporary space at number 10 Green Street run by Changing Spaces Cambridge. The use of the old shop window – it was formerly a music book retailer – allowed the maps to be strewn across the space as if shifted about by users. To this display I added the pencils and compass I had with me on the journey around Flanders and my Michelin Guide to Ypres and The Battles of Ypres.