An exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints at the Scottish Arts Club at 24 Rutland Square, Edinburgh.
The exhibition was conceived to record the 70th Anniversary of the Allied ‘Italian Campaign’ in Italy during winter 1943 and 1944. The significance of this campaign to Scotland is that it occurred in the geographical area of origin of many Italian people who subsequently emigrated to Scotland; the conflict also profoundly affected the lives of Italian people already settled in Scotland as their family members who were called to serve for the British Army found themselves fighting against Italian family members in the exact area of their origins.
This exhibition is the first showing of the new works created by Elaine Shemilt during 2013 and 2014, conceived specifically to bring this chapter of history which recounts some of the motivations and circumstances of the heritage of the immigrant community of Italian people in Scotland.
Working from the towns of Filignano and Venafro, Shemilt spent three months researching the topography where between September 1943 and May 1944 soldiers fought through heavy rain, mud and snow. The zone of conflict lies on the confines of the regions of Molise and Lazio which was demarcated as the Winter Line and the Gustav Line.
The impact of the conflict and civilian evacuations were the abandonment of ancient highways, cultivated land and entire villages which today remain hidden from view amongst dense foliage, populated only by the detritus of hand to hand conflict: ammunition canisters, grenades, belts and buckles lie amongst machine-gun emplacements and trenches now etched into the mountainous landscape as stark evidence of the aggressive occupation and conflict in one of the hardest won and most costly campaigns during WWII; the Allied mortality rate was 1,000 soldiers for each mile gained from German control.
The themes of conflict, territory and legacy are consistent with Shemilt’s practice which excavates historical fact to explore its impact upon society today. Since 1998 Shemilt has visited and researched the remote South Georgia Islands to document the effect of the Falklands War upon the society and landscape and amongst other outputs her work on this project was exhibited at The Imperial War Museum, London in 2002.
Winterline was commissioned by Cultural Documents and is supported by IFS Worldwide www.ifsww.co.uk; Arts and Business, Scotland; The Royal Society of Edinburgh; Regione Molise; The Centre for Remote Environments; Scottish Society of Artists; Museo Winterline (Venafro); Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and The University of Dundee.
The works in the series ‘Winterline’ address land as location and site, where lives are lived and lost. They document and explore the impact of conflict upon territory, from its essence as soil, rock and vegetation to its utilisation in the strategies of warfare.
This project started out with the motivation of producing a range of visual images which would stimulate consideration of the effect of sustained conflict upon territory and terrain. Elaine Shemilt researched the events leading up to, during and after the period of conflict from Autumn 1943 to Spring 1944 in central Italy. ‘Winterline’ now exists as a tool which can be used by people to think about and respond to the events of this historical period. The research involved researching existing texts and images from the USA, UK, France and Italy, meeting people living in the area, explaining the purpose of the project to them and learning their knowledge of events and locations. Starting in 2011 and continuing to today, Elaine Shemilt and Deirdre MacKenna walked over the territory of research during all seasons of the year to visit the locations of events and see what impact these had upon the territory. These walks became a way of passing knowledge from one person to another with Shemilt and MacKenna initially absorbing specific and personal stories and gradually exchanging the knowledge they had gained from their research with the individuals they met on their walks. This collective knowledge was in turn passed to increasing numbers of people. Thus, the period of formation of ‘Winterline’ was enabled by a collective effort, with sustained periods of research and exchange with the team at the Winterline Museum, Venafro, and members of Iap’ca Iap’ca, Filignano.
Shemilt’s works use processes of drawing, print, montage and collage to build up multi-layered images which evoke the nature of the mountain territory and explore the legacy of conflict upon territory. Until 1943, the terrain had been home to families living as individual workers of their land within clusters of houses, some big enough to be called villages; their locations and lifelines determined by the contours of the hillsides. This same area became known the world as the Winter Line and the Gustav Line, location of one of the hardest won and most costly campaigns during WWII. The conflict led to the abandonment of ancient highways, cultivated land and communities which today remain hidden from view, obscured by dense foliage, populated only by the detritus of hand to hand conflict; ammunition canisters, grenades, belts and buckles can still be found amongst machine-gun emplacements and burrow-like trenches etched deeply into the landscape.
Please see Winterline – works 2015 for more information on and other works in the ‘Winterline’ series.
Further research and information
The primary published sources used are
images of the territory made by Margaret Bourke-White in 1943 and 1944;
From the Volturno to the Winter Line (6 October-15 November 1943) and
Fifth Army at the Winter Line (15 November 1943-15 January 1944).
These are two publications in a series of fourteen studies of World War II operations originally published by the US War Department’s Historical Division and returned to print as part of the US Army’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous clash of arms. The volumes were prepared by professional historians shortly after the events described, and provide a concise summary of some of the major campaigns and battles fought by American soldiers during WWII.
Museo Winterline, Venafro, Italy
Iap’ca Iap’ca, Filignano, Italy
Starting her career in the 1970s, Elaine Shemilt is a pioneer of early feminist video and multi-media installation and fine art printmaking. Her works explore the contexts and legacies of military conflict and are informed by her experiences as a female artist responding to the Northern Ireland Conflict, the Falklands War and conflicts in central Italy during WWII. Amongst others, her works have been presented at The Imperial War Museum London, MACRO Roma, VAC LaTrobe, Bendito, Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Showroom, London.
For more information on Elaine Shemilt’s practice please see her website
Works from ‘Winterline’ have been acquired for
Collezione Angela e Tonino Buono, Venafro
Collezione MiBACT, Italia
Commissioned by Cultural Documents
Funders, sponsors and supporters
Collezione Angela e Tonino Buono, Venafro
University of Dundee
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