given at : CONFLICT, MEMORY, AND MATERIAL CULTURE: THE GREAT WAR,
The Second University College London/Imperial War Museum Conference
on Materialities and Cultural Memory of 20th-Century Conflict.
Saturday 11th September, 2004, at the Imperial
War Museum, London
‘Calculating the future’ –
panoramic sketching, reconnaissance drawing and the material trace
Since the establishment of the training academies in the 18th century,
the military have taught drawing as a navigational and exploratory
tool. At Woolwich, Dartmouth and Marlowe, gentlemen cadets and sailors
were trained to analyse and record landscape and coastline as a
means of neutralising and controlling enemy space. The practice
is maintained today; the quality of drawing is still schematic and
the process of looking and noting is reduced to basic methods of
measuring and calibration.
This paper explores the tenets of scopic control and the creation
of a unique material trace of warfare. By focusing on the period
1915 to 1918 the paper will examine how military sketching required
avant-garde British painters to adopt the systematic coding of surveillance
with varying results.
Whereas many ‘professional’ artists struggled with the
strict regimen of panoramic sketching, a large number of soldier-artists
rapidly learned to adopt its simplistic visual codes. They were
able to produce material that had both a spatial and a temporal
dimension, and their work embraced both the measurement of the spatially
unknown, but also the distant view of an unknowable ‘future’.