Sweethearts and Sandbags (Embroidered and vintage fabrics, sandbags, buttons, nylon string, brass, cotton tape)
An installation commissioned as part of “The Art of Remembering” exhibition for The Rheged in Cumbria. The exhibition examined emotional connections to the First World War, and looked at how the conflict has been memorialised over the past 100 years, examining moral and patriotic attitudes over time.
Morwenna Catt’s decorated sandbags form a protective ‘foxhole’ constructed from vintage domestic fabrics. piled on the gallery floor as if on the edge of a trench complex. The decorative patterns blend the imagery of battle with the comfort of home creating an environment at once comforting and unsettling. Is this the softening of the battlefield or the hardening of the home?
Morwenna’s work uses her personal connection to the First World War as a starting point; two of her Great Grandfathers fought in the war and survived. Her research into their experiences has led her to understand more of how the First World War has influenced her family history. William Brown, her Mother’s Grandfather lost his leg at aged 18 to an exploding shell. He lived into his 90’s but never talked about his experiences in the War.
Morwenna’s Great Grandfather, David Ferguson Hunter was awarded the Victoria Cross following a dramatic episode in September 1918 at Mouevres in France. He and six other men were believed to have been captured when German forces surrounded their position. In fact they remained pinned down and held their ground without food and water for two days until the allied forces retook the area and found them alive behind heaps of enemy corpses that had collected as they fought ferociously to defend their position.
Leading the visitor towards the sandbag shelter are a number of disproportionately large sweetheart cushions. These keepsakes, normally only a few inches across, loom large over the gallery, with black thread that trails along the floor, while a single red thread hangs visceral and tender amongst the black.
These threads are a recurring theme in Morwenna’s work, threads of a story, trains of thought, or the physical thread that pops in and out of the fabric forming words as it weaves over the material. Here the sweetheart cushions bring to mind the recuperating soldiers who would make these cushions as they convalesced.
It is this theme of shelter and recovery and survival that seem strongest in Morwenna’s work. Sitting in her shelter it is easy to consider the contrast between her ancestors David Hunter and William Brown. One decorated, honoured, who was trapped and got out. The other, injured with a long physical recovery, but never speaking of what happened, perhaps taking shelter from the past.
John Stokes, Curator. 2014