Artwork by SHOWstudio contributor Patrick Ian Hartley goes on display tomorrow, 17 January, in a new exhibition titled Faces of Conflict hosted by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) and the University of Exeter. The exhibition puts an unflinching focus on the the facially disfigured casualties of World War I, highlighting the ways in which artistic practice fed into surgical practice (in the work of sculptors as mask-makers or epithesists), and how radical new forms of surgery changed the context in which artists represented the face. The presentation features artwork produced in the immediate aftermath of the war by artists such as Otto Dix and Wyndham Lewis alongside contemporary pieces from Hartley, René Apallec and Eleanor Crook. These are displayed with various medical instruments, surgical documents and masks that illustrate the unprecedented innovations in maxillofacial surgery at this time.
While new military technology proved lethally efficient during the war, the same advancements had not been made to rebuild the shattered minds and bodies exposed to the shells ands shrapnel they spread. Physically maimed veterans were encouraged (through government policy) to remain out of the public view for fear of horrifying or provoking the masses and as such undermining the war effort. There were however, artists at this time who exposed the full horror of these mens' suffering. Otto Dix's etching Skin Graft portrays a face ravaged by mechanised warfare. Drawn with direct reference the injured men he encountered during his own service, the portrait presents a cuttingly ironic militarised man. Grotesque, ghoulish and gangrenous, the subject's suffering is glaringly depicted. Other artists paired with surgeons such as Harold Gillies in order to create ever more effective prosthesis.
Hartley began investigating the pioneering work of Harold Gillies after his collaboration with Dr Ian Thompson in sculpting bio glass facial implants, (you can hear the pair talk about this in an exclusive interview on SHOWstudio). His research lead him to create the Wellcome Collection funded Project Facade, for which he examined the lives of a number of Gillies' patients who had undergone experimental maxillofacial surgery. Hartley embroidered military uniforms with details of each of his subject's histories using the stitching and suture techniques developed by Gillies for his surgery. For Faces of Conflict in Exeter, Hartley has revisited this project, looking particularly at one individual, Walter Ernest O'Neil Yeo. Yeo was a gunner on board the HMS Warspite and suffered cordite burns during the Battle of Jutland. He was treated by Gillies and while the surgery was entirely successful in restoring function to the eyelids, the aesthetic results were not entirely satisfactory. Gillies freely admitted that mistakes had been made at the pre-operative stage, which resulted in an infected skin graft thickening and giving the impression of a mask.
Hartley documents the pivotal events in Yeo's life in a diptych featuring a naval uniform and a hospital gown of the type worn by these patients. Through fabric manipulation, digital embroidery, appliqué, heavy burning and branding, these pieces of apparel narrate the story of this serviceman in an incredibly intimate way. The duress under which Hartley puts each item of clothing echoes the violence suffered by Yeo's own body. This work and many others are on view, and Hartley's residency at the university continues this year. The exhibition is open to the public from tomorrow until 5 April at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter.
Image: Patrick Ian Hartley, From Yeo Diptych, 2014, Vintage patients gown, digital embroidery, appliqué, branding
Courtesy Patrick Ian Hartley