Tucked away in the corner of a small shop in the corner of an old school yard, a thoughtful installation tells the story of a Haversham-esque character whose maternal instincts for injured WWI soldiers in her care at The Soldier’s Rest drives her to sinister distraction.

Artist Claire Bates and poet Rebecca Sharp have realised their imagined tale by presenting a collection of hoops delicately embroidered with poetry using human hair through which is woven the eternal themes of love and death. The installation is comprised of found and vintage objects but it’s the sewing materials and poetry that are most poignant and provoking.

The hotelier’s seemingly misguided attempt to keep her wards safe by entwining them in a spell of captured dreams is told through Sharp’s affecting poetry which echoes the maternal mantras of those who had sent their sons off to the slaughter of the ‘Great War’:

Slumber, Youth and young remain
Free from sorrow, fear and pain
Wander not to Death’s domain

But in taking the Welsh form of englyn milwr, or soldier’s englyn which was used by soldiers to write home to their sweethearts, Sharp’s verses also hint at loves unlived, posing the question shouldn’t they be free to live, love and die?

The use of real human hair may seem macabre but, with its history in mourning jewellery and as a love token, it represents two of the enduring tropes in story-telling, death and love, and a reminder of their fragility, serving both as a momento mori and ‘momento l’amour’ you could say. And the antiquated concept is not as much of a turn-off as you might think judging by the number of enquiries Landbaby has received for private commissions.

As an ‘in-shop’ installation the setting for The Soldier’s Rest is restricted in some areas of its presentation. At times Annamarie Owens’ lamenting sound installation was almost lost to the comings and goings of customers. However, in drawing closer to hear I found myself tempted to pull at the tantalising ends of the embroidery hair strands and unravel the spell. Yet that would also unravel Sharp’s poems and therefore the life hopes of a lost generation of passionate young men who loved and dreamt but died despite the prayers of their loved ones, and what is there left of us if not a story?

Over time all stories change, unravel and decay, and so too The Soldier’s Rest which will transform and alter before it closes on October 27th. Be sure to go before its story is unpicked.

Landbaby
Bluecoat
School Lane