The invitation to become part of ‘cicatrix – the scar of a healed wound’ arose from one of those serendipitous occasions that almost didn’t happen. Trapped in a horrendous tailback just beyond Stonehenge I very nearly turned the car around and went home, as the World War I Centenary networking evening had already started and I had still a long part of the journey to Devizes to go. Never wanting to admit defeat though I decided to forge on and got there rather late. Prudence Maltby and Henny Burnett had also gone to the meeting and, spotting me across the crowd, decided there and then that a third artist would add just the element they needed to complete the World War I exhibition they were proposing. Having worked with Pru twice before and having exhibited in Henny’s Gallery, www.urmson-burnett.co.uk, I was more than happy to team up again and so Cicatrix was born.
That evening began a journey whose route has been far too convoluting to pin down in this blog but I will attempt to pick out some highlights. My personal background is in sculpture and installation but within the last few years video has become more and more prominent in my work. It is a medium that really excites me and so the thought of the opportunity to research a subject as fascinating as Salisbury Plain within the context of World War I, was like a gift waiting to be opened. That is not to say the resulting process has been entirely pain-free. Applying for Arts Council funding as any one will verify is only slightly preferable to sticking pins in your eyes but there is nothing like that working in reworking of a proposal to hone the focus of your ideas into a really robust project.
With support from Faye Perkins though we were steered carefully through the process and were thrilled to receive Arts Council funding. This really opened the door on the work as it meant financial support for the research time the project required. And so began the endless e-mailing, networking, conversations and pushing doors that finding access to the material, footage and interviews necessary to make the work required. Wiltshire Council had very helpfully brokered contact with the MOD on Salisbury Plain and I began to pull in all my personal relationships with staff members I knew both in the military and at DSTL Porton Down. As you can guess the security surrounding these organisations meant the process at times was extremely frustrating and stressful but it was also a privilege to be granted the information and access that I had.
Throughout this time I also took as much opportunity to explore the Plain as much as I could, although many weeks were frustrated by the deluge of rain that shut roads necessary to get to just area I needed. At other points, when the weather was just perfect, I dashed out with my camera ridiculously early and almost froze my fingers to the bone filming the Plain in just the light I needed. But it is the people who have made this project so compelling for me. From the interviews with local people whose memories stretch back through generations to the early days at Porton Down, to the military who kindly have given of their time to make this project a reality, to the people we’ve met randomly who have given nuggets of information. All remain a little chink in the process.
And now that the film is made the process doesn’t stop there. Workshops which will engage various members of the general public and gather their responses to the exhibition are planned to take place once the show launches in July. As it comes to Salisbury, we will be working with Morning Star, a charity for rehabilitating the homeless, to gather and exhibit their responses to the project. Beyond that, we hope to continue to tour and already have future collaborations and venues secured. Do have a look at our website, www.cicatrix.co.uk, where you can follow our blog and see the project unfold as the Centenary approaches. Or if you’re that way inclined, follow our twitter group at https://twitter.com/cicatrixart and become part of the conversation yourself.