H O M E     V O R T E X    V O R T E X    V O R T E X 3    V O R T E X 4    V O R T E X 5     P E R S O N A L  B L O G

Conference Papers
Conference papers

Paul Gough
Royal Geographic Society RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London, 27-29th August 2014

Congested terrain: contested memories. Visualising the multiple spaces of war and remembrance
‘Stasis’ is widely accepted as the pre-eminent condition of the conflict on the Western Front, a war of congealment, fixity and stagnant immobility fought from earthworks that were designed to be temporary but quickly became permanent. In the battle zones a new spatial order emerged; beyond the superficial safety of the front-line parapet was No Man’s Land a liminal, unknown space, a ‘debateable land’ which could not be owned or controlled. Far beyond lay a green and unspoilt distance, a ‘Promised Land' that was forever locked in an unattainable future; the domain of imperial development and exploitation.

This paper explores the spatiality of conflicts on the Great War battlefield, and draws on the work of artists, cartographers and surveyors who attempted to explore and lend visual form to the chaos. Through the act of mapping and drawing they attempted to systematize the outward devastation, whereby trees became datum points, emptiness was labelled, and the few fixed features of the ravaged land became the immutable co-ordinates of a functional terrain, a strategic field, where maps where predicated as much on time as of place.

The paper concludes by looking at the spatiality of commemoration, at how memoryscapes have been created, preserved and re-presented as a palimpsest of overlapping, polyvocal ‘lieux de memoire’. Across France and Belgium, the flattened emptiness of the former Western Front is now crowded with rhetorical topoi and emblems of regional and national assertion.