(polyurethane resin, mdf, galvanized wire, acrylic sheet, steel fixings)
The hands may almost be said to speak. Do we not use them to demand, promise, summon, dismiss, threaten…fear, question or deny?…Have they not the power to excite and prohibit, to express approval, wonder, shame?”
The sculptural installation exhibited in the BBC Public Space was produced by taking polyurethane castings of two Birmingham-based ex-military officers; Company Sergeant Major Dominic Hagans and Corporal Phil Taber. Dominic and Phil both suffered injuries while serving in Afghanistan, and became friends while undergoing intensive rehabilitation at Headley Court in Surrey. The installation was produced over a series of 6 sessions, visiting the home of Dominic in order to take molds of the hands using a body-safe silicone.
War memorials and monuments were part of the inspiration for this piece, but the emphasis is on a questioning of the role they play within contemporary culture today, and a consideration of the way in which they can provoke negative responses, as well as positive. Monuments can register grave errors, as well as great deeds, but while looking to the past they can also help guide us towards a better future. The ‘flaws’ in the casts were deliberately retained as a counter-point to the often brutal, clinical cleanliness of such monuments. Similarly, the fixings of the installation have been deliberately exposed to reveal the ‘inner workings’ of the piece, referring to the unseen aspects of war and medical intervention, as well as the individual bone grafting, insertion of metal rods, and ‘Taylor Spatial Frame’ treatment that Dominic and Phil underwent.
“Surgery is often said to be a ‘supremely material specialism’, and in this way the work of medics and artists can sometimes share a connection in their skills of dexterity and the manipulation of materials, healing physically or, at times, emotionally” (Natalie Jones, artist)
While the work references injury, it also looks to the difficult medical work that took place during the First World War and continues to be vital in the present-day. It is partly inspired by the work of Henry Tonks – a First World War surgeon who worked with the pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Delf Gillies on facial reconstruction. However, Tonks also produced visually arresting and moving images of the physical injuries caused by conflict, and while these images make for difficult viewing, they force the viewer to think about the darker side of conflict, as well as the uneasy relationship between medical representation and aesthetics.
After the face, the hand is the most frequently symbolized part of the human body in culture, and it is often able to express feelings that the face may try to disguise. Hands can be a symbol of intimacy and they convey an entire spectrum of human emotion and intent; greeting and friendship, strength, power, salutation, supplication and condemnation. The hand can be used as a tool, a symbol or a weapon – according to Aristotle, the hand is in fact “the tool of tools”
The right and left hands traditionally share a contrasting symbolism of the light and dark side of culture, but together they can be juxtaposed to symbolize balance – two clasped hands can symbolize peace. In this piece, Dominic’s and Phil’s right and left hands are juxtaposed and bought together to signify balance and friendship on an individual level, but also a point of connection and understanding in the wider context of war and conflict.
Above all, the piece is not intended as a ‘validation’ of any kind of war, but simply as an acknowledgement of its devastating effects, and of the medical care and support that is necessary for all involved following conflict. It reflects the need to take stock of mistakes as well as valour, and to look towards healing and peace as the only possible ‘positive’ outcomes of war.
About the Artist
Dr. Natalie Linda Jones is a contemporary artist with a PhD in English, working in Birmingham and the Black Country, with a studio based in Digbeth. Her work combines theoretical research and visual practice in mixed media projects, exploring the notion of ‘silent voices’, lost stories and the transitional surroundings of contemporary urban life. (Email: email@example.com).