Commemorative art exhibition Monument translates well to both sides of Channel

By Mark Sheerin | 04 April 2014

Exhibition: Monument, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Calais, until November 16 2014; FRAC, Caen, until April 13 2014; Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, Norwich, until July 27 2014; the Undercroft, Norwich, June 14 - August 3 2014

Mark Edwards, Shelter No II© Image courtesy of SCVA
The venues and dates may be nebulous. The organisational structure may be obscure. But in two venues on the North France coast and two more in Norwich, you can currently enjoy a vivid four-part show about the need for and means of war commemoration.

Both theme and title, the word Monument has been chosen for a shared meaning in French and English. That meaning is becoming ever more pertinent as the 70th anniversary of D-Day (June 6) and the centenary of the outbreak of World War One (July 28) draw near.

While both events link the 20th century histories of France and England, national ties clearly still run to joint art ventures. The shows are co-ordinated by Time and Place (TAP) a project with European funding bringing together all the above venues, plus Fabrica in Brighton.

160 artists applied for the chance to demonstrate what monumentality meant to them, and the results are a broad range of loose associations with the theme, from the sandy murals of contemporary high rise architecture in Calais by Benoît Billotte to a cloud of World War One horse traps by John Cornu at the Sainsbury Centre.

Norwich may seem distant from the North coast of France, but wartime makes all kinds of connections. Norfolk was the breeding ground for many of the horses which ‘served’ in the Great War. And the large county was also home to airfields from which planes took off in support of the Normandy landings. These are now the sites for imposing photos of shelters made with forestry logs by Mark Edwards.

But having seen part of the show in Calais, the author can report that this is, on the whole, remembrance with a light or at least a deft touch. While the mainstream media wrings its hands, we have a group of largely French artists to thank for steering free of cliché at this difficult time.

One Breton artist, Jocelyn Cottencin, has even gone so far as to create a whole typeface from the memorial edifices in Norwich, Calais and Caen. And she has worked with ten dancers to interpret each of the letters of the exhibition title. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, if not for joyous silliness like this, “then what are we fighting for?”

  • Sainsbury Centre open 10am-6pm (5pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday). Visit the website for more details.

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Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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