An exhibition at the University of Leeds demonstrated the First World War’s continuing influence on 21st century creativity.
Visual artist Juliet MacDonald had spent months working with material in the University’s unrivalled Liddle Collection of letters, photos and memorabilia relating to the First World War.
As part of the project, funded by The Leverhulme Trust’s Artist in Residence scheme, some of the resulting work went on show at the University’s Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in a show called Inhalation.
The Liddle Collection, part of the University’s Special Collections housed in its Brotherton Library, contains the personal papers, oral testimonies, photos and memorabilia of more than 4,000 veterans and their relatives.
Its contents tell the stories of ordinary people in the trenches and on the home front. Some of its artefacts and possessions were donated many years after the war by ex-servicemen and their families.
During visits to the archive over a 10-month period, Juliet used drawing as a means of exploring the collection and responding to the material she found there.
‘This has been an amazing opportunity to work with such material first-hand. I’ve enjoyed opening up the boxes and spending time reading, looking, listening and drawing,’ she said.
‘The work I’ve created may encourage others to make contact with these surviving testimonies. I see the processes of cataloguing, listing, filing and wrapping as ways of caring for the memory of previous generations, and so the archive staff have an important task’.
As well as the new exhibition, the residency saw a public lecture given at Leeds Art Gallery in May, as well as opportunities for members of the public to explore the Liddle Collection at artist-run drawing workshops.
The artist’s work is linked to Legacies of War, the University’s First World War centenary project.
Dr Claudia Sternberg, who led the Legacies of War’s Culture and Arts strand, said: ‘Watching an artist at work and attending the workshops has been eye-opening – quite literally. It’s been exciting to see how items from the collection are transformed by the use of different media.
‘What also intrigues me is how, in the exhibition, Juliet connects the cleanliness of the archive, the rough or fading quality of its content and the diversity of experiences represented.
‘As a counterpoint to all of her careful handling of the archive, Juliet visited the site of a former munitions factory in Leeds. What she found there has become part of the display and invites reflection about war, the body and matter’.