Above: This is Rubbish, Jeni McConnell

Jeni McConnell

Jeni McConnell was engaged as lead artist on the Fort Walney, Uncovered project in 2014.

My first research inclination was to delve into the lovely old maps and the pore through wealth of information at the library and local museums for this exciting project. As I absorbed the unfolding story I was drawn to be playful with the North Walney place names, creating an anagram poem which proffered a view of my understanding of the shifting experience of this place through time.

At the beginning of the public events which took place on site we stood amidst the dunes, pricked by the marram grass that flickers and frills in the almost constant wind that riffles the island and I read aloud the place names, paused, and followed with the poem.

As the digs progressed finds appeared and were bagged and labelled to denote their original positions of discovery. I led a playful session with the participants encouraging them to play with categorisation of things using Borges suggested (and assumed fake) Ancient Chinese classification of Animals – we sorted things into our own categories such as: only on Walney, things that make me smile inside, things to play with when old, time travellers, things which bounce . . .

Above: Untitled (Work in Progress/ideas), Jeni McConnell

I took a group of children from Vickerstown Primary School on a guided walk from school to the dig site. On our journey we talked of all the people through history who would have wandered along the same pathways, and how different it might have been for the men of WWI going to dig practice trenches in preparation for war. Back at school I led a bookmaking session, showing the children how to create their own books filled with content that reflected on their experience of walking up to and around the dig site.

We had a wild and windy day when I was scheduled to work with the children from St Columbas Primary School, so the walk to the dig site had to be cancelled. I adapted the session, walking the playground and talking about the dig, trenches, war and finds. The children’s books reflected on this discussion, drawing crenulated trenches in which to add their drawings of found objects alongside their poetic writings and thoughts.

Over the time of the dig and through the following year I spent time on site exploring the space and looking at how it changed over time. Exploratory works such as Making Way and This is Rubbish were made. I lay in the trench lines reading the war poetry of Isaac Rosenberg and collected fleece snagged on barbed wire fences. Ideas from these explorations became more concrete when the archaeologists report appeared with the earthwork survey of the trenches. I’d spent many hours with them helping to survey the land and it felt right to use that as the pivot point for my work created in response.

“I lay in the trench lines reading the war poetry of Isaac Rosenberg.”

Jeni McConnell

Below: Trenchskyview, Jeni McConnell

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