The Work v5 by Imogen Stidworthy: Review

The Work v5 by Imogen Stidworthy (IWM)

The Work v5, on display at IWM London until 6th September 2015, seems a remarkably simple exhibition. It consists of a large satellite dish, a stack of glass covered in anti-blast film and a large portrait of the back of a man with a shaven head.

There are voices too. Transducers fixed to the objects emits sound through the material rather than through the air, making the objects ‘speak’. The Liverpudlian voices are staccato and, at times, stuttering. Two voices are male, Rob and Dave, apparently recollecting battlefield horror; the third is of Lisa, Rob’s, wife.

The Work v5 is the latest version of this piece by Imogen Stidworthy featuring the effects of PTSD on former British soldiers and their loved ones. Rob, we are told, suffers trauma from his time serving for the British in the Falklands War in 1982 and his wife, Lisa, must pick up the pieces. Dave, meanwhile, served in Bosnia and Iraq.

The exhibition emphasises to me the fragility of the human brain through the fragmentary voices of trauma. Stidworthy distils and splices the speakers stories to the point of narrative incoherence. The focus of the audience becomes not simply what is said but what is not – and, what cannot be said or explained.

The large portrait of Rob’s back, physically strong, shaven headed and in a blue top, is redolent of prison and strength. Likewise, the satellite dish and the bomb-proof glass suggest power and, perhaps, sophistication. But, the room is dominated by the scattered, impassioned voices.

I found the The Work v5 interesting and believe it’s subject matter is important, however, I wonder whether the symbolism of the transducers speaking through the objects adds anything more than if ordinary speakers were used. If not, then the arrangement of the satellite dish and the blast-proof glass might be called into question. Whilst useful symbols that tie the piece to aspects of war (and interesting from a techonolgical point of view), on initial viewing, their physical dominance in the exhibit, to me, belied their actual importance to its meaning.

The work was developed by Stidworthy as part of Loughborough University’s Talk/Action Radar project. It started through an exploration of cognitive interviews with ex-soldiers to draw memories and experiences. In early versions, the piece included narrative from the interviewees about their experiences but Stidworthy chose to pare these down to turn it into a audio-visual exhibit. The results have been exhibited widely, including in the waiting room of Loughborough Railway Station.

The Work v5 is on display at IWM London as part of its IWM Contemporary series until 6th September 2015.


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