It’s often hard to conceptualise a global war that is reaching its centenary year, but MOSTYN present it in connection with the local town, Llandudno. This personal connection helps to locate the events that happened worldwide within a local context. The building that houses MOSTYN was the place where the Llandudno Volunteer Training Corps was founded in 1915, and subsequently used as a drill hall. These local accounts tie the building in with this historic event that changed the history of the world.
Running through the show are three vitrines with local artefacts dating from 1914 - 1918, dealing with the national and international impact of the war. Each one deals with a particular theme from World War 1 (WW1) such as the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, local stories and pacifism. These vitrines create a link between past and present, presenting the historical side to the war, and creating a conversation with what has happened since.
The ideas in the show don’t always directly relate to WW1, instead they present a multifaceted view of conflicts that have happened since; these aren’t always direct references but deal with the issues in subtler ways. While there is coherence in the themes presented, the contemporary works don’t always speak to each other, instead they seem separate from the other pieces.
Art can only respond to war and attempt to influence ideas such as with Yoko Ono & John Lennon’s famous sign ‘War is Over! If you want it’ responding to the Vietnam War. Throughout the exhibition, the works respond to this idea of questioning. The collective Claire Fontaine’s neon sign ‘Foreigners Everywhere (Welsh)’ points to the fact ‘We are foreigners everywhere’ as well as the other translation ‘There are foreigners everywhere’. This duality of language shows how it both includes and excludes, often a point of contention and the cause of wars, both past and present.
A motorbike wheel is mounted on the gallery wall, constantly rotating, slowly eroding both the rubber on the tyre and the wall. Michael Sailstorfer’s ‘Zeit ist keine Autobahn’ will gradually degrade until it reaches its inevitable conclusion, creating an apt metaphor for the process of war, the people involved and the landscapes in which it happens.
Conflict and borders are often intertwined, and Kris Martin’s provocation ‘Do Not Cross the Line’ offers the viewer this challenge with a red line across the gallery floor, creating a conflict within the space. This use of the gallery space is furthered in Lara Favaretto’s ‘Lost & Found’, a locked suitcase left on the floor, as if abandoned. There is a feeling of unease as fears of unoccupied objects have increased post 9/11.
The aftermath of war is explored in the works of Taysir Batniji who uses the language of estate agency advertisements to reveal the state of homes in Gaza following the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The homes are not in any state to be occupied but those who lived there must try to re-build their lives and find somewhere new to live. The event of a conflict extends past the fighting period, which is highlighted in the ironic advertisements.
Art and activism is investigated by Allora and Calzadilla’s two pieces, ‘Landmark (foot prints)’ and ‘Returning a Sound’. Dealing with the occupation of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by the United States military, they present a resistance and triumphant statement to the end of the occupation. Working with a number of activist groups, they collaborated to make rubber soles with drawings and messages about the occupation. ’Landmarks’, a series of photographs in the bombing range of the island show the traces left. ‘Returning a Sound’ was produced when the bombing had stopped and the bombing range had been made accessible to the public. Homar, a land activist travels through the space on a moped with a trumpet attached to the rear, mimicking the sound of the bomb sirens, in both a mocking and celebratory way. Shown together these works represent the activist’s will to fight for their land and draws parallels with the conscientious objectors shown in the historical vitrines.
WW1 has changed the course of the world in numerous ways, and its subsequent effects are still felt. Within ‘WAR’, the contemporary and historical merge to create a new viewpoint on the enduring notion of conflict. Since WW1 there have been a number of high profile conflicts across the world, and it’s the artists role to respond to them. Artists cannot directly affect the outcome of a conflict but can respond to it, adding a voice of dissent.