Watching with Mother: ‘rejourning’ the wartime memories of a Wren, 1946-2016

Savage, Karen and Smith, Justin (2016) Watching with Mother: ‘rejourning’ the wartime memories of a Wren, 1946-2016. In: Staging Loss: Performance as Commemoration, 16th June 2016, Lincoln.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


This presentation examines the gestation of a project entitled 'The Birds Who Wouldn’t Sing' which aims to retrace the journey of Joan Prior, a WWII Wren, through war-torn Europe between 1944 and 1946. Using maps, photographs, diaries, letters-home, mementos, found footage, oral testimony and re-told memories, we unfold a personal narrative of war recorded in everyday experience. Following in her footsteps, our retelling, our ‘rejourn’, uncovers another sedimentary layer of memory, made of fragments and traces, echoes and ghosts. Although Joan’s living memories have now receded behind a veil of amnesia, in our reverse process, our filtered sequencing, the losses fade until what is left unlost is that which is refound, retold, repositioned, reimaged, re-imagined.

As Smail (2009: 23) reminds us, recovering ‘deep history’ requires interdisciplinary approaches, because ‘the bodies of evidence now available … are growing in leaps and bounds. To the pot shards, texts and phonemes … we have added genes, isotopes and other traces. Imagine each as a filter in a different colour. Using just one, you see your subject in an unreliable light. But now layer them one on top of the other and peer through the ensemble and … the bright light of the original can be reconstituted to some degree.’ Smail, following the 19th-century theologian and historian of science, William Whewell, calls this ‘consilience’.

In our layered history, we reconstitute a personal past from a variety of partial evidence of qualitatively different kinds, through the perspective of a mother’s memorial legacy to her son (Justin Smith), framed in the deep-focus of a film-maker’s lense (Karen Savage).

Smail, D (2009). Beyond the Great Divide. History Today, 59(5), 21-23.

Keywords:WREN, Memory, Performance, The birds who wouldn't sing, rejourn, oral testimony, found footage, WWII
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W310 Musicianship/Performance studies
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P900 Others in Mass Communications and Documentation
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P310 Media Production
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P132 Archive studies
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:24118
Deposited On:19 Sep 2016 08:42

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