THE SILENT VILLAGE
An exhibition that combines Humphrey Jennings’ seminal World War II propaganda film with contemporary responses from artists and writers, opens at Mostyn on January 22nd. Curator Russell Roberts invited Peter Finnemore (Wales), Paolo Ventura (Italy) and Rachel Trezise (Wales) to respond to The Silent Village, a film that re-enacts in Wales the Nazi destruction of the Czech village of Lidice committed on June 10th 1942.
In late May 1942, SS Deputy Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich, ruler of occupied Bohemia and Moravia, was assassinated by Czech resistance fighters. As a reprisal, the village of Lidice, 20km north of Prague, was obliterated - its 173 male residents murdered by firing squad while the women and children were taken to concentration camps with a few of the younger children sent to live with SS Officers to be Germanised. Within weeks of the atrocity work had began on translating the events into a film supported by the Ministry of Information, London and made in South Wales. In September 1942 a Crown Film Unit crew arrived at the village of Cwmgïedd, near Ystradgynlais in the Upper Swansea Valley, under the supervision of artist, poet and filmmaker, Humphrey Jennings.
Exploring a common thread around themes of loss and memory, Finnemore, Ventura and Trezise create new commentaries that link with Lidice through personal responses. Observing collective ways of remembering and considering generational memory as a vital means of continuing to know the past is a key theme. Acknowledged for his distinctive work centered around the family home, here Finnemore’s large scale black and white photographs are pared down but still emotionally resonant. Entitled Everyday they encapsulate dialogues between objects and place and the passing of human presence, with narratives that relate not only to Lidice but ultimately to us all.
From his studio in New York Italian-born Ventura stages table-top miniature ambiguous worlds. Using modified dolls, crafted backdrops, props and lighting and childhood memories of family stories of both world wars he creates situations and scenes that manifest in photographs what are, by now, imagined histories. At first glance the SS soldiers, the dead horse killed by its stable door and the deserted village scenes are real but even with knowledge of their making and the play on words in the series title Dead Village, they still make us look again and consider the desolation and destruction of war.
Rachel Trezise, known for her acerbic and witty writing, is able to tease out a moving story from the perspective of a Lidice survivor in A Child called Lidice where the central character Belia Bevan struggles to recover a past that is traumatically linked to the atrocity of Lidice. Her memory, awakened by seeing the Jennings film, begins the process of reclaiming the past and making sure the name Lidice lives in the future embodied in the name of her newborn child. By razing the community and obliterating their very being the Nazis unwittingly ensured that the name Lidice would become notorious, as we are reminded in the closing scene of the film that far from being lost “the name of the community has been immortalised”.
The exhibition is accompanied by a significant publication (3 volume boxed-set), which includes the main exhibition catalogue, with essays by exhibition curator Russell Roberts and the late film historian Dave Berry; Album, an artists’ book by Peter Finnemore and the short story A Child called Lidice by Rachel Trezise.
The Exhibition Preview will be held on Friday January 21st 6.30pm with Rachel Trezise reading A Child called Lidice at 8pm. Mostyn is grateful to Academi for assistance from the Writers on Tour scheme to facilitate this.
World Holocaust Day on January 27th falls during the opening week of the exhibition.