I was looking forward to this as I have a real love of war literature and anything that can link to the poetry and prose I enjoy is always worth visiting. However, this exhibition turned out to be utterly compelling and devastating in turn.
If I tried to explain all of the different areas, this blog would go on forever. So, it would be best if I just concentrated on the ‘compelling’ and the ‘devastating’.
May as well say it now – I love CRW Nevinson. When I found The Soul of the Soulless City at the Tate in the summer of 2014, I had to know more about this man and his work. There was something about this one that meant you couldn’t stop staring and the more you look, the more you follow that track up and out of the canvas. His ability to paint movement was astonishing.
The Sensory War begins with four of his oil paintings: A Howitzer Gun in Elevation; Explosion; Motor Lorries and La Guerre des Tros (The Underground War). If take the first two as a pair , the narrative they tell is so frightening. The cold, harsh reality of the Howitzer waiting is an incredibly masculine presence. There is silence emanating from this painting in the moments before it is fired is palpable. And then we see, hear and even feel the effects of the explosion itself. This was a stunning way to start the exhibition.
The section entitled ‘Rupture and Rehabitilation’ dealt with the part of war that no one really wants to acknowledge. The pastel and watercolours done by Herbert R Coles to show the facial disfigurement of WW1 soldiers was fascinating in the fact that the plastic surgeons were able to work to repair in some way, the damage inflicted. Almost 100 years later, surgery advances have made us feel that anything can be fixed but when you compare the drawings with Richard Mosse’s 2011 photograph of a boysoldier from the Congo, whose face had healed at the point of the impact wound but who had received no treatment, you realise how little we have learnt about the devastating effects of war.
This exhibition finishes on the 25th January and it is one I would have revisited if I had the time to do so.
Well done Mancester!