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The Imperial War Museum and 14-18 NOW

In early to mid January myself, Louise Lowe and Owen Boss from ANU and David Bolger and Bridget Webster from CoisCeim traversed the Irish sea in simpler pre-Brexit times to take a visit to the beautiful Imperial War Museum where 14-18NOW have their headquarters to continue conversations in relation to THESE ROOMS.

14-18NOW is an arts commissioning body commemorating the centenary of the Great War. Looking up their programme in advance I felt that I could not remember seeing a more innovative, ambitious or appropriate centenary programme which seemed to span all sides, points of view and sensibilities when dealing with such an incredibly complex and confounding event such as the First World War. Some of 14-18NOW had come to see Pals: The Irish at Gallipoli by ANU in 2015 and had had a great response to the work when we met for coffee in the Collins Barracks cafe after. After that, the Arts Council of Ireland had already started some clever talks with them on how they could link in with some of the ART:2016 commissions as part of Ireland 2016. This trip to the Imperial War Museum seemed inevitable!

We arrived at the museum a bit in advance to check it out. There are five Imperial War Museums in the UK and considering they’re purely showing you a glimpse into the past and things and people that no longer exist, the minute you walk into the field there is a very surprising buzz and life to the building and its environs. From the way the two giant cannons (from the HMS Ramillies and the HMS Roberts) seem to leap out at you from in front of the building to the sheer amount of people bustling in and out of the main foyer.

The museum’s remit is to record the civil and military war effort and conflicts that Britain or the commonwealth have been involved in since 1914 so there is plenty to see. The museum’s collections include archives of personal and official documents, photographs, film and video material, and oral history recordings; an extensive library, a large art collection, and examples of military vehicles and aircraft, equipment and other artefacts. the five of us sprinted around the museum, splitting up to cover more ground and devour as much of the experience as we could. A highlight for me was when I ended up in a artificial trench from WW1 and realised I had a new found claustrophobia. I don’t know how well I’d have done in the war.

After recovery from my trench trauma and sprinting around the museum trying to see as much as possible before sitting down with 14-18NOW to discuss THESE ROOMS, how we envisage it at the Dublin Theatre Festival this September and how it could be reimagined for a British context in 2018. We left the meeting feeling energised having encountered a commissioning body totally open to new perspectives and they clearly felt the same about the ANU / CoisCéim collaboration as they since came on board as co-commissioners. We’re looking forward to the next step when they come and see the work in October and see how the discussion continues from there.