Participatory Practices of Memory: Memorialising the Great War in Britain During the Centenary Moment
Year of enrolment: 2017
National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) Studentship
Supervisor: Dr Deborah Madden
Institution email: k.o’firstname.lastname@example.org
This research analyses the use of large-scale participatory art as a commemorative form in Britain during the centenary of the First World War at the significant moment when the war has effectively moved out of living memory. The immediate post-war era saw a proliferation of physical memorials that was without precedent in Britain. Cenotaphs were erected not only to mark an important military victory and give the national sacrifice meaning but also to comfort and provide a focal point for a grieving nation, drawing them together through collective rituals of remembrance. The permanence of such sculptures is in stark contrast to much of the commemorative activity during the centenary of the Great War in Britain which has seen a proliferation of temporary forms of participatory memorialisation that asks to be understood as ‘living memorials’. If we can no longer speak about direct grief as the motivation for First World War commemorative activity, what kind of losses do these new rituals of remembrance mark? This turn towards participatory art as commemorative form complicates the commemorative grammar of Great War memorialisation through a turn towards the aesthetic of relational art.
Through a focus on national mass-participation artworks produced in collaboration with the official centenary arts program 14-18 NOW this research examines the complicated relationship between the articulation of national narratives through state-sponsored organisations, artistic intention, and individual experience within a collective act. What can the turn towards participatory memorials tell us about the nature of commemorative culture in Britain during the centenary of the Great War and what is the relationship between such commemorations and the wider debates surrounding the ethical use of commemoration in an era of increasing nationalism? Using a distinctive theoretical framework that draws on the work of the Popular Memory Group and participatory aesthetics this research will analyse how mass-participation artworks use history to create affective emotional engagement with in the past, its impact on political subjectivities in the present, and what this might mean for the future.