TNC Archive 2016
The Danger Tree
A Groundbreaking Visual Arts Experience
Originally published in 2016
Being able to attend a private viewing event ahead of new art exhibition openings can be very exhilarating. Usually the events tend to follow the same formula, but on getting the invite to Scarlett Raven’s latest exhibition, The Danger Tree, I knew I was going to be in for something truly unforgettable.
The Battle of the Somme is, perhaps in the modern history of warfare, one of the bloodiest and most devastating battles of any war. It is unfathomable to think about what it would have been like for these young boys and men fighting a brutal and devastating trench war. The nature of war over time has changed so much that drones do the work that would have once been done by hundreds of thousands of men on the ground.
Scarlett Raven’s The Danger Tree, taking its name from a group of trees in No Man’s Land that was used as a meeting point for the Newfoundland Regiment during their infantry assault, heartbreakingly brings to life a moment in history that should never be forgotten.
The reservations I had lay in the notion that Blippar's augmented reality experience would do justice not just to Raven’s work but also to the legacy and memory of The Somme. Technology has a tendency to detach its audience, which becomes more transfixed by the technical aspect than anything else. After obtaining the iPad and being instructed not to take the headphones off as ‘they greatly add to the experience of the exhibition’ I was ready.
Walking into the exhibition space, you’re immersed in Kave Quinn’s intricate, subtle, and effective set. Resembling in parts a bombed-out gallery, you are struck by the contradictions that are presented to you as Quinn makes the set both cold and warm, which creates a brief snapshot of history that we are allowed to move within.
After the first painting, In Flanders Field, the reasons for using Blippar and what this is allowing Raven to achieve with her work become evidently clear. As we stand there in a gallery looking up at works there is unfortunately a limit to what the art is allowed to say. The static nature of art makes it somewhat rigid in what it can say and in 2016 audiences tend to expect more. At no stage is the power, majesty, beauty, and incredible sense of urgency lost in Raven’s work by using Blippar; in fact, it massively increases the power that she has created.
"There is a strength in his written words that portray wisdom far beyond his years, the words true and unedited that display bravery that dispels the notion of fear."
One sees Lost Post, In Times of Peace, and The Last Laugh with slight trepidation as one emotionally becomes connected to the pieces. The pieces are vibrant and filled with life but this is only one aspect of the reach that Raven’s work has as underneath there are multiple layers from pain, loss, uncertainty to fear, reflection and worry that is unimaginable. As the paintings come to life, you allow yourself to become completely immersed in the paintings, and though you might bump into a few people as you make your way around the exhibition, you are never taken out of the intimacy that has been created.
As you continue through the exhibition, your approach to the paintings is delicate, but the trepidation subsides and an amazing sense of awe overtakes you. Each time you view the painting through Blippar, you are taken into another sphere all together. The life, fun, and wildly creative new view add greatly to the narrative that Raven has created.
Perhaps for me one of the most poignant painting is the Anthem for Doomed Youth which managed to encapsulate everything about The Somme, the idea of duty, youth, service and honour, as well as the clarity of conscience. With the music gently playing in the background, you hear a letter being read that was written by a soldier to his mother in case he is killed in action. There is a strength in his written words that portray wisdom far beyond his years—true and unedited words that display bravery that dispel the notion of fear.
I found myself rigid in my position in front of the painting, thinking about this young man on the frontline with the sounds of gunshots all over his head, being able to find the serenity to compose these letters to their loved ones. Reality sets in, and for about ten minutes I found it hard to move on to the other paintings. What would these soldiers and their families think of us now?
We will always remember The Somme and the huge sacrifice of life that is the legacy of this battle. We are meant to remember this sacrifice as a way of guiding us in our lives now with the hope that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Each of Raven’s images allows you to become privy to the artist's process and inspiration, and through her eyes you are able to see the works' buildup and the soul that Raven puts into them. The augmented reality aids this exhibitions fantastically adding, never taking away, to the impact that the paintings have.