Current Conflicts – Watford Museum

26th September 2013

I’ve never taken this long before to write-up a study visit, but on this occasion I’ve really been stumped as to what to say.  I have very mixed feelings about what I saw on 7th September at Watford Museum, a lot of negativity was my first reaction with some positive points, but as time has passed the negativity has diminished to ambivalence in a lot of senses but the positive points haven’t increased.  So what was wrong and what was right?

I think the reading material recommended prior to the day perhaps led me to expect something along the lines of actually seeing conflict depicted, but there was nothing in the display that shouted conflict to me.  Even the images from inside the fortified areas in Afghanistan were pretty ordinary, by that I mean they showed ordinary life and living conditions.  The misshapen bullets that were said to have come back with squaddies from Afghanistan didn’t really suggest conflict to me as they could have been found on any military range anywhere in Europe, we have to accept that they didn’t, and I’m sure they did come from Afghanistan or there’d be no point to the work.  The escape and evasion training images taken of RAF helicopter crews in England had no meaning to me at all as I thought they were far too under-exposed and no detail was visible, perhaps that was the point.  If it was it went completely over my head as to what was significant about it.  The image of hand with a camouflage jacket pushing aside a bush, clearly a reference to military but with what appeared to be a theme from the rest of the exhibition of middle eastern conflict, bushes in full, green leaf?????  And the image of pin-up, recruiting poster boy only reminds us that the military have been recruiting since Caesar’s day and doesn’t say conflict, but then maybe it does as most men sign-up for the chance to go to conflict, why else do you sign-up for the military, it’s the job description.

The point it did raise with me was, how far removed from actual signs directly equating themselves  to conflict can images depict scenes that demonstrate either conflict or opposition to conflict?  There’s clearly a need to take this as far as possible because I think that this exhibition was caught between two stools, on the one hand the artists clearly didn’t want to, or couldn’t, show images of conflict, that’s all too same same, but they clearly didn’t want to shout pacifist either and that’s where things fell down for me, it was neither one thing or the other.

The one positive aspect I took from the day was that I can clearly see now how to organise a small exhibition to show my own work, so it was worth the journey for that alone.


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