Contemporary artists are doing their bit to remember the First World War during 2016, the centenary year of the bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun. In the UK, the official arts programme 14-18 Now announced its latest co-commissions today (20 January). Visual artists including Rebecca Warren, Ciara Phillips, Yinka Shonibare and Imran Qureshi will be creating new works, along with leading poets, musicians, choreographers, film-makers and the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.
They will be looking beyond the carnage on the Western Front, responding to the changing role of women during the war, the experience of refugees then and now, and how troops from India rushed to France and Belgium as the British Army’s casualties mounted.
The musician Damon Albarn is due to renew his collaboration with the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, many of whose members are in exile, to perform a new work responding to the secret Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Agreement to carve up much of the Middle East, which included creating Syria’s borders (then part of the Ottoman Empire).
The programme, which was launched two years ago, has resulted in new works by Jeremy Deller, Bob and Roberta Smith and Susan Philipsz among others. Jenny Waldman, the director of 14-18 Now, says that more than 20 million people have experienced over 80 works so far. “We thought we were being ambitious hoping to reach 10 million” over the entire four-year programme, she says.
Perhaps the most eye-catching works have been the three ships “dazzled” by the artists Peter Blake, Tobias Rehberger and Carlos Cruz-Diez. A fourth ship of the era, which is anchored in the Port of Leith, Edinburgh, is due to be transformed by a contemporary version of naval camouflage. Ciara Phillips has been co-commissioned to dazzle MV Fingal, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, in time for the city’s art festival (28 July-28 August).