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