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Conference Papers
Conference Papers

Professor Paul Gough
3rd University College London/Imperial War Museum Conference on Materialities and Cultural Memory of 20th Century Conflict

Body:Guard: the soldier as ceremonial unit and fragment

The picture postcard image of a Guardsman standing sentinel outside the palaces of Imperial London is one of the most visible material objects of the Capital. Garbed in imposing bearskin hat, strident red tunic and unflinching verticality, the guard is the apotheosis of military control and whole-ness: his is the body Imperial. But it is also the body impractical, theatrical and compromised by ceremonial rectitude.

This paper briefly explores the material culture of the ceremonial body by looking at two differing representations of the Coldstream Guards: firstly, the short film Guards (Francis Alys, 2003) in which 64 guardsmen gather and incrementally form a phalanx of armed troops that stride unopposed through the square mile of the City of London. The second image is from a commemorative painting by David Rowlands, a regimental artist commissioned regularly by the British armed services to paint composite images that reflect the varied roles of a battalion on home duty.

Where Alys’s work is concerned with the power generated through the choreographed military body; Rowland’s paintings represent diversity and fragmentation: the body often represented as an individuated member.

Rowland’s fascination with multi-tasking heterogeneity is compared with Alys’s undifferentiated troop, captured on film as ciphers, their material trace caught as synchronised sound.