Constructions of Death, Mourning, and Memory
Conference, WAPACC Organization, Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, USA,
October 27-29, 2006
Insurrection: Resurrection: reviving the
dead in the work of Stanley Spencer, Otto Dix and Jeff Wall
'The scene that followed was the most remarkable
that I have ever witnessed. At one moment there was an
Taking as its starting point Stanley Spencer’s
vast panorama of post-battle exhumation The Resurrection of the
Soldiers (1927-32) this paper examines the role of painting and
photography in appearing to bring the dead, the disappeared and
the dying back into figurative life.
intense and nerve shattering struggle with death screaming through
the air. Then, as if with the wave of a
magic wand, all was changed; all over ‘No Man’s Land’
troops came out of the trenches, or rose from the
ground where they had been lying.’
Spencer’s panorama of earthly redemption was painted in the
1920s as vast tracts of despoiled land in France and Belgium was
being brought back from apparent extinction, and planted with thousands
of gravestones and military cemeteries. As salvage parties recovered
thousands of corpses, concentrating them into designated burial
places, Spencer painted his powerful image of recovery and reconciliation.
This illustrated paper will locate Spencer’s work in the context
of such artists as Will Dyson, Otto Dix, and the Australian Will
Longstaff whose image of the Menin Gate at midnight’ depicts
a host of phantom soldiers emerging from a Flanders battlegrounds.
However, unlike the grotesque ‘undead’ depicted in Abel
Gance’s 1919 film J’Accuse, Longstaff’’s
‘ghost army’ and Spencer’s reborn battalion are
intact, pure and unsullied by warfare.
Achieving greater popular acclaim than Spencer’s vision of
rhapsodic peace, Longstaff’s painting was more in tune with
the mood of séances, spirit-photography, and battlefield
pilgrimage that so dominated the decade after the Great War.
The paper will conclude with a reflection on Jeff Wall’s epic
photographic battle-scape of 1992 ‘Dead Troops Talk’.
Gough will explore common themes and draw some comparisons between
Spencer’s ontology of reconciliation with Wall’s bleaker
montage of disaster and death.