Jane and Louise Wilson’s Undead Sun is a large-scale video installation that looks back at the seismic impact of the First World War and considers how so many of the products of that conflict continue to shape our contemporary experience. At its heart is a now-familiar pattern of military action – new and hard-learned in the First World War – in which control of the airspace assumes as much strategic importance as the campaign on the ground. This desire for panoramic overview, to rise beyond the deadlock of the trenches, brings with it its own rapid advances (in camera optics and other technological innovations) but also its counter-measures, as armies seek to hide their movements and positions from this ever-present eye-in-the-sky. Alluding to the unceasing threat of exposure from above, Undead Sun highlights these earthbound, subterranean arts of concealment and camouflage, as well as the unremarked, invisible contribution made by women to this facet of the war.
Inspired by archive photographs and artefacts, and by diary entries and personal testimonies, the piece reflects on the visceral, elemental forces that the war unleashed. Not only did it effect a change of view from the air; it provoked a change in view of the air – instilled by the terror of gas attacks, the thunder of heavy artillery or the disorientating turbulence and violence of speed. Sequences filmed against the looming backdrop of a giant wind tunnel evoke these larger-than-life forces at work, while a series of staged cameos, interspersed throughout the footage, offers glimpses of individual, human-scale dramas – as well as intimations of some of the demons haunting the society of the time.
Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima): 1 October 2016 - 22 January 2017
IWM, London: 15 October 2014 - 11 January 2015
Commissioned by FVU, for IWM (Imperial War Museums), in partnership with Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. With special thanks to Artliner.