Faces of Conflict exhibition opening: Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, with Michael Longley

Faces of Conflict, the major UK exhibition arising from 1914FACES2014, opened at the RAMM on 17th January 2015. The private view was accompanied by a uniquely moving and powerful reading by Michael Longley, CBE. Michael read from his recent collection The Stairwell (2014) and spoke about the key role played by the First World War in his poetic creation.


Michael Longley (Photo: SMSteele)

Michael’s father served as the teenage commander of ‘Longley’s Babies’, one of the London-Scottish regiment’s infantry companies. Michael’s father’s experience marks Michael’s own reflections on a variety of conflicts from different historical periods, and The Stairwell sees remarkable juxtapositions of scenes from the Trojan wars and the First World War. In particular, Michael’s poem ‘The Tin Noses Shop’ offers a glimpse of the gueules cassées and of Anna Coleman Ladd’s work to create portrait masks in the war years. We were honoured to be able to include this work and Michael’s equally striking work ‘Face’ in the exhibition.

Faces of Conflict explores the long-lasting influence upon artists and surgeons of the facial injuries suffered during the First World War, and includes contemporary work by Paddy Hartley, Eleanor Crook, Rene Apallec in dialogue with a range of historical artefacts.

1914FACES2014 exhibition team

1914FACES2014 exhibition team (Photo: Will Dyer)

The exhibition is at the RAMM until 5th April 2015.


1914FACES2014 / Saving Faces, Hannah’s at Seale Hayne

The 1914FACES2014 / Saving Faces exhibition, curated by Cristina Burke-Trees, opened on 5th June 2014 in the Chapel Gallery, Hannah’s at Seale Hayne.

The exhibition features work by Paddy Hartley, artist in residence, including a uniform sculpture based on the life story of Walter Yeo. Yeo was badly burned at the battle of Jutland in WWI and Paddy’s sculpture refers both to Yeo’s wartime experiences and the pioneering facial surgery he underwent after returning home.

The SAVING FACES art project, meanwhile, presents us with a unique opportunity to study the present-day collaboration between the maxillofacial surgeon Professor Iain Hutchison (St Bartholomew’s) and the acclaimed Glaswegian portrait painter Mark Gilbert.

Iain Hutchison established the Saving Faces project in 1999, funded by a small legacy following the death of his mother, Dr. Martha Redlich. Painter Mark Gilbert took up the offer to work within the surgical department of St Bartholomew’s and soon started painting the portraits of patients before and after (and occasionally during) facial surgery. At the outset it was hoped that the project would illustrate, in a form that was accessible to the general public, what is possible with modern facial surgery, and show that people with facial disability are able to enjoy happy, successful and fulfilled lives. Iain also wanted to give an artist the opportunity to paint these unique faces as they progressed through their surgical and emotional journey. Finally he felt that sitting for and seeing their portraits might have a cathartic effect, allowing the patients to come to terms more rapidly with their altered appearance.

Our presentation of the Saving Faces exhibition is part of the enquiry into questions of social reintegration which we are conducting within 1914FACES2014. On 16th June, we put the exhibition into dialogue with a workshop on Facial difference and social (re)integration. The Psychology sub-project of 1914FACES2014 considers the factors that affect social relationships between people with visible facial difference (VFD) and those without this difference, and these will be discussed by researchers in Social Psychology and other experts including Professor Hutchison. In its concern with social reintegration and rehabilitation, this event draws upon the rich history of Hannah’s at Seale Hayne, including its brief spell as a military hospital for soldiers returning from the trenches with shell-shock.

Acknowledgements: our thanks to Clemency Horsell, Suzanne Steele and, above all, Cristina Burke-Trees. Grateful thanks to Paddy Hartley, Iain Hutchinson and Saving Faces.

Images: SM Steele / DJ

Henry Williamson, The Patriot’s Progress

In tandem with the workshop Representing and Historicising Les Gueules cassées, we are hosting a pop-up exhibition of Henry Williamson’s The Patriot’s Progress.

The book is the account of the World War I experience of a plain, unassuming man, John Bullock, and is remarkable both for the plainness of its narration and the synergy between text and image which takes place within it. It was William Kermode’s lino cuts, documenting his own experience of the Great War, which inspired Henry Williamson to write the harrowing account of John Bullock’s experience in the trenches on the battlefields of France. Besides Williamson’s unsentimental and beautifully crafted descriptions, it is the precise rawness and immediacy of William Kermode’s imagery that compelled us to return to this treasure from Special Collections, University of Exeter. The original manuscript is concurrently exhibited at Special Collections, the Old Library, University of Exeter.


Many thanks to Dr Christine Faunch Head of Heritage Collections, University of Exeter and the generous support of Exeter University’s Arts and Cultures.

David Houston Jones

Cristina Burke-Trees

Les Défigurés, Amiens

A recent exhibition at La Maison de la Culture, Amiens, asks searching questions of our attitudes to facial disfigurement. Les Défigurés consists of large-format photographs of disfigured or facially injured people treated by Prof Bernard Devauchelle.

The photographer, Cyril Crépin, foregrounds the stigmatisation which surrounds facial injury and our enduring reticence when faced with the injured face. In this work, Cyril talks about the need to make ‘the unbearable beautiful’. These difficult images are all too often relegated to the margins of the visible. What, though of the ‘unsuspected beauty’ which can emanate from them? How do we take account of this category without running into ethical problems like those which give rise to the project in the first place? Do we risk normalising our responses? There’s a dilemma here between creating a new aesthetic category and attempting to retain the shock of the ‘unbearable’.