Like the excellent opening of Glastonbury 2014 Festival’s Sunday programme with the English National Ballet performing Akram Khan’s World War I themed ‘Dust’, Unlimited Festival got into full swing with five disabled artists’ responses to the centenary of The Great War.
Review by Trish Wheatley
The commissions from Channel 4 and 14-18 NOW, available through Channel 4’s on-demand service were shown in quick succession on the big screen in the Clore Ballroom.
Much like at Glastonbury, it was entirely appropriate to programme this particular event at the beginning, and in this instance to mark the start of the entire Unlimited 2014 Festival, because of the gravity of the subject and its historical nature.
This also led neatly into contrasting performances by two of the artists, whose films were also markedly different. Katherine Araniello presents a parody of the silent movie genre in which she enacts the role of matron in a convalescence ward. Using catchphrases of the time in entirely inappropriate circumstances her film comments on the lack of understanding of the medical, psychological and social impact of conflict related injury at the time and with a hint towards the lasting legacy of those attitudes today.
In contrast, Claire Cunningham’s three-minute short is more abstract and in some ways timeless as she imitates the regiment of gun preparation with her trademark performance apparatus: crutches. She mimicks a child playing with crutches as it they were machine guns. At face value the main premise for the film may seem obvious but for me it acts as a reminder of the damage that those guns and conflict in general does. It seems that by using a filmic aesthetic and soundtrack within a location that is difficult to date she is questioning whether the impact of conflict has changed in the last hundred years?
Each film is distinctly different in style from the other, a reflection of the diversity that is found within disability arts. Disabled artists’ ability to see the world from a different perspective might bring something new to understanding that horrific and tragic period in human history. Tony Heaton’s film focuses on the contrast between memorialisation and reality through archival photographs from the Imperial War Museum and the many WWI memorials depicting heroic soldiers.
In this, most poignant of the five films, Heaton focuses down on the story of 23 year old soldier Henri Gaudier-Brzeska by reading from letters the sculptor wrote during his time in service. The film asks the viewer to consider the loss caused by war, but also the creative potential that grows from conflict. Perhaps hampered by the three minute format, the moment of reflection is cut short by the credits and the viewer is left wanting to know more about this character and his story.
Simon Mckeown's animation takes an evolution, with more detail than in his Motion Disabled series. It hones in on the everyday lives of WWI soldiers who acquired impairments and projects a more optimistic view on their rehabilitation with sepia-toning and cheerful classical soundtrack. He deliberately features soldiers in all the uniforms of the nations involved in the conflict to highlight the 15 million who lost their lives during the war.
Finally Jez Colborne takes on the persona of a soldier in an entertaining and reflective song with piano accompaniment. Soldiering On tells the story of the young learning disabled men who were initially invited for conscription but soon universally refused entry into the forces. It's easy to like this short as Colborne sings with soul directly into the camera appealing to the heart of each viewer.
Watched as a collection, rather than individually the films become pastiches of the artists' own practice through a common theme, each quite diverse, they do offer different perspectives and interpretations of the Great War, whilst also offering an insight into the depth and variety of creativity that stems from the experience of disability.
Does it matter? Is available to view here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/does-it-matter-world-war-1-shorts/4od