‘I am quite happy with my scout job. To tell the truth I almost feel safer in front of than directly behind the trenches. I maintain that if a man gets hit its either his own fault or destiny’.
Rifleman Barnet (Barney) Griew, May 1916
Changing the Landscape, an ambitious visual arts project from British painter Sarah Kogan, is a profoundly personal and deeply poignant exploration of the cataclysmic destruction - physical, emotional and psychological, wrought by the First World War. Supported using public funds by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Kogan has undertaken a journey to France to trace the footsteps of her great uncle Barney Griew, a map maker and scout, who died in the Battle of the Somme and whose extraordinary archive of letters, drawings, and photographic postcards are the inspiration behind the project.
Changing the Landscape was the first contemporary art project to exhibit at The National Archives UK in London from April to September 2016, as part of the centenary commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, before touring to the London School of Economics and the iconic Wolfson Reading Room at Manchester Central Library in 2016/17. The installation has enjoyed a public reach, online and live, of approximately five million (stats. supplied by The National Archives UK and Manchester Central Library) and has attracted nationwide broadcast publicity. It encompasses a large installation of artworks produced by Kogan following her journeys to France and includes a specially commissioned multi-screen video installation by independent film-maker Jeremy Bubb, as well as an extensive talks and education programme. Other collaborative outcomes have included that generated by Historypin, an online user-generated archive of historical photographic materials and audio-visual recordings.
Kogan recalls being shown her great uncle’s illustrated letters during childhood by her grandmother, one of the main recipients of Barney’s prolific writing. On rediscovering the letters – written during the five month period before his death, and described by William Spencer, First World War principal specialist at The National Archives as “unique” - Kogan was struck by their extraordinary details, stories and sketches, as well as by the multiplicity of viewpoints expressed by Barney as he wrote several times a day to different family members. It is these multiple viewpoints that make these letters and drawings of such exceptional historical value. Alongside these parallel accounts of his trench life Kogan has researched those written in official documentation by the military commanders under whose supervision Barney’s unit worked. These multiple “sight-lines” – almost as though caught in the cross-hairs of a rifle – form the foundation of Kogan’s artistic response, which explored how the landscape – the physical landscape of France, the psychic landscape of Barney, his loved-ones, the country and of Kogan herself - has been indelibly altered by the Great War.
Changing the Landscape represents a continuation of Kogan’s work as an artist, exploring as it does themes of personal narratives and uncertain journeys, the Romantic visualisation of exterior landscapes as a reflection of interior domains, as well as its focus on First World War battlegrounds. It shares preoccupations explored in her earlier series of paintings of the obliteration of Passchendaele, in which Kogan was inspired by aerial photographs of the area before and after its destruction. As with that series, Changing the Landscape is preoccupied with cartography in all its contemporary connotations: mapping terrains both physical and psychological.
by Ruth Garde
curator/ producer Sarah Kogan
digital video production Jeremy Bubb
education programme Nathalie Ginvert
catalogue design Laurent Benner
graphic design Lisa David
with heartfelt thanks to:
Arts Council of England, The National Archives UK, Tate, Dept. of MCL University of Roehampton, Rebekkah Abraham, Ricky Bowtell, Tony Ageh, Paul Bonaventura, Pete Boswell, Jake Bubb, Jeremy Bubb, Emma Cahusac, Joe Clarke, Dan Crompton, Ceryl Evans, Stuart Franklin,Ruth Garde, Adam Gildersleeve, Matthew Gunton, Rosa Hodgkin, Victoria Iglikowski, Ela Kaczmarska, David Kogan, Gillian Kogan, Diggs Lecomber, Sarah Leggett, Kate Lennard, Bradley Levers, Dr Tim McInerny, Naomi Rees, Julia d'Rozario, Leah Schmidt, Andrew Schuman, Jeremy Schuman, IanShand, Fleur Soper, William Spencer, Nick Stanhope, Hafiz Sule, Kate Wheeler.
Fanny & Barney Griew
Sarah works as an artist and curator from her studio in the East End of London. Personal stories and narrative have been a recurrent theme in her paintings with the use of imagined journeys and the psychological abstract nature of landscape at its heart. In addition, Sarah is a lecturer at Chelsea School of Art and on the groundbreaking Art of Psychiatry module, in conjunction with Bethlem Royal Hospital and South London and Maudesley NHS Foundation Trust. Sarah writes for Oxford University's WW1 Centenary website: Continuations and Beginnings, History Workshop Online and 'History is Now' Magazine, USA. Her recent contributions to academic conferences include Archivists as Interpreters at The British Library and University of Roehampton’s ‘Movement- Story- Image’ International Symposium. See examples of Sarah’s previous work here:
Filmmaker, Producer and Senior Lecturer in Digital Film Production.
Jeremy has been an independent filmmaker and producer for almost twenty years. His current research explores a film language for new media films, devising strategies for multi-image screen stories. His work is published and presented internationally. Films include 'Space Dance', which was shortlisted for a BAFTA, 'Writ in Water', a three-screen film drama funded The University of Surrey; the award winning 'The Sea' and 'Number Nine Rush' comissioned by Southern Arts and Meridian Television. He worked on 'The Case for Coal', a C4 documentary about the struggle of striking coal miners in 1980s, which received a prestigious Grierson Award. Jeremy studied at the National Film School of Poland and Northern School of Film and Television and currently teaches at Roehampton University London.