Passchendael Mud

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My husband and I went to see this in Trafalgar Square this morning.

It’s a statue of a WWI soldier, resting, sleeping on his kit, made to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Passchendael, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It is only there for four days. Two young Dutch artists, sisters Damian Van Der Velden and Kilian Van Der Velden made him from mud, clay and sand taken from the site of the battlefield. Exposure to the elements (and some artificial rain if we had any uncharacteristic sunshine in London in July – it did happen two weeks ago) means that the statue has already started to melt away since it was erected yesterday. 

Damian Van Der Velden told CBS Canada “I was trying to get the emotional or exhausting feeling that the solider has to have at that moment . . . All his energy is gone”. The Passchendaele mud, she said, is “the heart and the soul” of the statue, and collecting it was harrowing experience.”If you walk on it, you know you are walking on a death field,” she said. “It’s strange. You cannot imagine.

From one side he looks like a young boy dozing peacefully. From the other side he looks older and in discomfort. I don’t know if that is deliberate, or merely the effect of a night’s rain.

I did start to speak to Damian Van Der Velden, asking her how she decided on the appearance of the subject, but as she was telling me about her source sketches she was interupted and I decided not to interfere with her subsequent conversation – the lady concerned was visibly moved. 

The statue is being filmed and a time lapse video is intended. I wish he could be cast in bronze and erected permanently on the fourth plinth. Some of the modern art featured there has been good; some thought-provoking if not to my taste; too much has been rubbish.  

Photographs E Weatherwax London July 2017

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