Initial reflections on the Wasteland Project: Lorna Dallas-Conte

The Lochnagar crater is a curious place, in fact we are a group of curious people and together we are making a curious body of work that I hope will evoke the curiosity of others.

My exposure to WW1 has been very limited. A very occasional mention of my maternal Grandfather (long dead when I was born) playing football between the lines at Christmas; studying between the two wars for O Level and latterly being lucky enough to create work and support Dawn Cole in her work relating to her archive of her Great Aunt. Watching and not understanding ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ as a teenager and a youthful anxiety about the Vietnam war, was enough for me to put up a barbed wire fence and sandbags around the subject. However I did briefly study Wilfred Owen at A Level, and a love of poetry from early years have obviously left their influence, as my first response to the crater was writing a piece of poetry as I sat within its shelter.

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Having clambered down into the crater the longing need I had was to lie down, stretched out looking up at the amazing blue sky. I was not sure if this was a fitting response but the need overcame my anxieties of disrespectful behaviour. The ground was warm, the grasses cushioning and I felt curiously exposed but sheltered. The sky above me stretched from the edge of the view of one eye right to the very edge of the view of the other. All of a sudden I experienced an optical illusion of the thorn hedges becoming reflections in a blue pond of water. The experience was elemental. Later these experiences were to start to help form my creative responses.

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Later having climbed, talked as I encountered others and wandered and sat, I struggled to get some sort of purchase on what I was looking at. Dawn mentioned the calls of people visiting above us at the rim and suddenly the poetry started arriving, often as whole lines formed. I wrote the first piece that afternoon, and a second on my arrival home when I had my first encounter with the young solider from the crater. I had thought I would be making a textile/bowl response, which are both also in development but the poetry was more insistent and seemed to arrive as a result of the massive physical, emotional and spiritual attack the crater and the surrounding landscape has on the visitor.

Meeting Richard Dunning and Iain Fry later and learning more of how the Lochnagar crater has impacted on their lives, my understanding lengthened and broadened. The afternoon spent with Richard and Iain was another curious occasion and one that I am still processing.

Working with my four fellow artists is such a joy. The tales, the laughter, the gentle hand, sharing, praise and encouragement are such a privilege. All our work is so very different. Dawn was inspired in her invitation to form the group and we are becoming a company, rather like a company of players, through our shared experiences, along with our two drivers who are very much part of our group.

What I do know is that through this project I have a new connection with our home planet, which we have disturbed, and a new imperative to make a contribution to Respect, Reconciliation, finding new solutions to creative Peace.

Lorna Dallas-Conte 1 June 2017

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