All Is Well on the Western Front

The information I’d been given about the exhibition I’d be attending that evening was that it is set in a chapel bombed during the Second World War. That was about it. No information about the artist, or what it was I was actually travelling down to Peckham to see. This certainly made the evening even more thrilling when goggles and protective ponchos were distributed amongst the audience. I wondered if anyone else arrived slightly more informed than me about the course of tonight’s action. Probably…

As I know all too well, the exhibition was set in a venue bombed in the Second World War. An old, disused chapel named ‘Asylum’ located in the stretch of a guarded garden, converted into a space for art shows, photography and weddings. The interior was bare with an unfinished floor, unmasked walls and only scattered candle light to light the aged building. When looking up the chapel online, the term ‘crumbling London chapel’ is used to describe the place. All in all, there’s something incredibly eerie about ‘Asylum’, including the name, suggesting perhaps I wasn’t going to be able to get out of this exhibition.

Upon entering the building, the nature of the exhibition became clearer. The artist sat in the middle of the empty chapel, motionless, dressed in all white and surrounded by light bulbs filled with red paint scattered before and behind her on the floor. Even above her, light bulbs lay hanging off almost unnoticeable wires. So I guessed that a normal gallery exhibition wasn’t to be expected as I entered that building and found a seat.

After the entirety of the audience was seated, the exhibition began. The seated figure, the artist, whose still body itself had become part of the stagnant light bulb installation, began to move. Slowly and tentatively, and then at times quickly and vigorously, the light bulbs aligning the floor were smashed, leaving behind the red paint.

The artist is Natasha Bacon, a visual artist whose work pushes past traditional art forms and presentation. Upon further research I discovered the exhibition was named ‘All Is Well on the Western Front’, an instillation that explores our idea of peace in the Western World. The visual art performance encapsulates peace with its silence. Its slow, gentle movements, before disrupting it entirely with the smashing of glass and the spray of red paint, comparable only to blood.

Its ambiguity invites the audience to be left to make of it what they will; questioning the figure’s relationship with the peace and destruction that she creates.

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