GSA exhibition inspired by World War I archives

How should art respond to the human impulse for fighting and violence? 

There's a new exhibition on in the Reid Gallery at  Glasgow School of Art that explores this very question. The exhibition title – Nothing compares to the first time getting shot at - is a quote from a British soldier serving in Afghanistan in 2010. 

Rachel Lowther was invited to undertake research into the School of Art's collection of archival materials relating to the World War I period.  Among the works inspired by letters in the GSA archives are a number of handkerchiefs embroidered with the messages sent by WWI soldiers to their families, all of which are shown on pieces of stone recovered from the Mackintosh Library after the fire. In one particularly poignant piece Rachel traces the handwriting of a young student who had signed up and been sent to the Western front. In a letter home he writes “I am now marked fit… and am once more for the firing line.”

Rachel Lowther, Embroidery tracing the handwriting of a GSA student sent to the Western Front, 2015.

Rachel Lowther, Embroidery tracing the handwriting of a GSA student sent to the Western Front, 2015.

William Hunter, World War I postcard sketch, GSA Archives.

William Hunter, World War I postcard sketch, GSA Archives.

She has also curated an exhibition, From the service of Venus to the worship of Mars, that will run alongside it and feature some of the letters and ephemera that she found. These tell the story of many individuals from the Glasgow School of Art during World War I. They showcase the variety of activities that the School’s students and staff undertook and how their experiences of war impacted on them and the School as a whole.

You can hear Rachel talk about her work and experience of using the archive in this short video

Joanne Orr, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland, said

 “This project by The Glasgow School of Art exemplifies what Museums Galleries Scotland hoped to support through our WWI Fund. We asked for new ways of commemorating the First World War and the lasting impact it has had on Scotland’s people and cultural landscape and the work by Rachel Lowther forms a lasting and thought provoking legacy for new generations.”

It sounds an amazing exhibition – if you’re in Glasgow over the next couple of months, why not take a look?