Susie MacMurray installs the ‘Cloud’ at The Great Hall
Susie MacMurray’s ‘Cloud’ has arrived at The Great Hall! I’m a bit of a growing fanatic for Susie’s work after seeing a glimpse of what was ‘Shell’ at Pallant House Gallery, back when I saw the Spanish Civil War exhibition. ‘Shell‘ was one of her site specific pieces she installed in 2006-7, inspired by the history of the couple who once lived in the house. The installation took over the stairwell, with 20,000 muscles filled with red velvet – their hard, outer shells, prized open exposing the fragilities of their truth and love.
Susie is from Manchester and works with sculpture, drawings and architectural installation. Her website describes her art as follows – “Working in installation and sculpture she has gained a reputation for poetic site-specific interventions in historic spaces. Her work typically references the history of a space and merges the particularities of that history, the specifics of the site, and the meanings of materials to gain insight and raise questions about the relationship between place and people.”
She has brought ‘Cloud‘ to Winchester in collaboration with Hampshire Cultural Trust and the Big Theme programming. Having been awarded Arts Council funding, Hampshire’s Big Theme is ‘1914’ in commemoration of the First World War. Numerous museums and galleries across Hampshire have been programming various pieces connecting the stories, people and collections of the county. One of these chosen venues, The Great Hall, is a surviving 13th Century, medieval hall, housing King Arthur’s Round Table and is the remains of Winchester Castle. It is steeped in history and its grand architecture is fitting to hold an installation of such scale and meaning.
Susie’s ‘Cloud‘ is a commemoration piece and has been installed to hang from the rafters, representing a looming shadow of darkness from our past.
The frame of the cloud is a metal structure, which has had black butterfly netting stretched across. This ‘skinning’ of the framework is combined with a lattice of cable ties and bunching techniques to create the base layer. As a team helps with the skinning process, Susie has gone round inserting the barbed wire, entwining and securing its macabre trail to engulf the metal frame work.
The barbed wire was salvaged from a MOD site in Aldershot and the rusted tones blur its identification as wire or thorny undergrowth, muddied from the trenches. This is not a cloud of our stereotypical thought – white, fluffy, light with soft edges, but a dark ‘storm cloud’ whose exterior is daunting, cold and oppressive; as its sad weight hangs above us. It evokes the ominous nature of war, the darkness it brings to so many and the following, devastating shadow of loss.
Beneath the weaving barbs are the 40,000 replica identification tags. These tags are made from twine and compressed fibre discs, as they would have been during the Great War. Many of the fallen lost their identification tags during their service, due to their lack of durability and hence so many were unidentified. Their colours, red and green, are again the same as in the First World War. The lower red tag was taken to report the deceased and the green left with the body. The red tags’ absence signified the death had already been reported and the green tag remaining, meant a grave marker could be made.
10,244 of these replica tags hold the names of every member of The Royal Hampshire Regiment who fell during service in the First World War. Members of the public have been invited to write on the other tags the names of people they know who have been touched by war, or their own name as an act of remembrance, in the process of the installation build. I wrote a few tags of my own to contribute and in memory of my Grandparents. Not all of the tags will be written on however, as a representation of the unknown and the unreturned.
The installation is running until the 29th March 2015, so be sure to go along and see it.
Robynne Willowby, February 2015.