A little over two weeks ago, on 11 November 2022, the first IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund commission from a War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network (SSN) member launched. This commission was Walking With Ghosts, created in partnership with The Gateways Partnership, based in the Schools of Arts and History at The University of Kent.
Walking With Ghosts was held in Folkestone and featured a multimedia immersive installation in a decommissioned railway station. This station is notable as the main port of departure for British troops during the First World War who were heading to the Western Front. The installation consisted of IWM archival film of soldiers projected onto the walls of the station. The projection ran from Friday, 11 November for a full 84 hours over Remembrance Weekend.
This temporal boundary, and the name of the commission, draws inspiration from a 1928 quote of Fabian Ware, previous Director of the Imperial War Graves Commission, who estimated it would take the ‘ghostly army of the dead of the Imperial forces’ 84 hours to march past the Cenotaph in rows of four.
Communicating the immensity, intricacy and sheer horror of war has always presented a challenge. Fabian Ware attempted to meet this challenge in 1928 by putting a mental image to statistics. Walking with Ghosts, with the use of modern technology, was able to take his theoretical image a step further. Walking with Ghosts’ multi-sensory immersive installation literally made these statistics and stories come alive. The persistent looped footage of the soldiers, in the very place they left from over a century ago, was a sobering manifestation. Walking With Ghosts began to make tangible what often feels incomprehensible.
The projections were accompanied by a moving soundscape of accounts of war related to Folkestone. Ranging from the First World War to the current war in Ukraine, the brief stories told alongside the projection helped tie the past to the present. Many thousands of people also listened to the musical soundtrack online, which remains available to download here.
In addition to the installation, there was a series of workshops held over the weekend that related to the exhibition. These free sessions included poetry, ropemaking, walks and storytelling. Through this series of activities, Walking with Ghosts extended itself beyond the station and into the community. This community connection was integral to the project, and specifically, the Nepali community in Folkestone strongly informed the development of the installation. Their presence at the Remembrance ceremony made clear how present the legacy of war is within the town to this day.
It is estimated that around twenty-thousand people visited the exhibition, and if they are like me, it is safe to say that even after they left the station and continued into the shops on The Old High Street or down the Harbour Arm, the ghosts continued to walk with them.
The stories and visuals told through this exhibition are impactful and stick with you. There is so much about war and conflict that is abstract, especially for us here in the UK where such realities are distant geographically and/or temporally. Altogether, this commission reminded me of how necessary creative means and artistic vision are to make real what is so often intangible.
Such is the goal of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund – leveraging the power of art to make stories of war and conflict more accessible. I look forward to seeing more of what comes from our partners.
The next IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund commission, Somewhere to Stay, is created in partnership with the University of St. Andrews’ Visualising War project. This exhibition will feature work by artist Diana Forster who will tell the story of Anna, a young Polish refugee driven from her home during the Second World War, and her long search for ‘somewhere to stay’ in eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the UK. Forster will present a series of laser-cut aluminium panels, mirroring the traditional Polish papercutting folk art Wycinanki. Somewhere to Stay will go on display on 4 February 2023 at the Kirkcaldy Galleries in Fife, Scotland.