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The Watch Man: An installation by Shona Illingworth


A major multi-media installation exploring trauma memory by artist Shona Illingworth will be shown as part of ‘War and Medicine’, this year’s major temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection.

“Shona Illingworth’s careful use of visuals and sound creates an emotionally charged environment that evokes both the pain of the remembered experience and the claustrophobia of feeling trapped inside a disturbed mind.”Sandra Rehme, ’Time Out’

Using video and sound, ’The Watch Man’ explores the conflict between trauma memory and the need for a coherent ‘life story’ through the experience of an 80-year-old watchmaker, who as a 19-year-old experienced one of the most deeply affecting and shocking events of World War II.

The work has been made in collaboration with University of Leeds neuropsychologist Professor Martin A Conway. Professor Conway is an internationally recognised expert on trauma memory, confabulation and the role of memory in the formation of a sense of self.

’The Watch Man’: 16 December 2008-11 January 2009
Private view: 16 December 2008/18.30-20.30 (contact Mike Findlay for details)
Venue: The Forum, Medicine Now Gallery, Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Admission free
Gallery opening times: Tues-Wed, Fri-Sat: 10.00-18.00; Thurs: 10.00-22.00;
Sun: 11.00-18.00; Closed Mon (except Bank Holidays: 10.00-18.00)

James Peto, senior curator at Wellcome Collection explains: “With successive generations living with the after effects of traumatic experience, this work looks at the impact of conflict on an individual over time. Shona Illingworth’s emotive piece allows visitors the experience of literally walking over the sound and becoming part of the world inhabited by the watch man.”

’The Watch Man’ includes a large circular projection screen suspended above an installed floor that has been painted red. A complex sound composition surrounds the visitor, with audio high above their heads, and resonating through a charged and reflective surface of the constructed floor beneath their feet.

Shona Illingworth comments: “Societies need to find coherent forms of representation for conflict is often at odds with people left to cope privately with the painful and fragmentary nature of trauma memory of war. ’The Watch Man’ focuses on the lifetime impact of trauma memories on an individual, the intensity with which a deeply distressing and unresolved past continually insists on the present and how with old age the capacity to suppress these memories becomes weaker.”

’The Watch Man’ has been supported by the Arts Council England. Hi-shine flooring has been provided by Harlequin Floors. The immersive sound of ’The Watch Man’ piece has been made possible by FeONIC audio technology fitted invisibly under the floor of the exhibit.

Notes to editors

Shona Illingworth is known for her powerful and evocative video and sound installations, which explore the experience of memory and the formation of identity in situations of social tension. She has shown her work extensively in Europe, Canada and the UK. She has received a number of high profile awards including commissions for Channel 4 Television, the Hayward Gallery, London and the Wellcome Trust. She lives and works in London.
Professor Martin Conway

Professor Martin Conway is a neuropsychologist and one of the foremost international experts in the field of Autobiographical Memory.

His work explores the centrality of memory to our sense of self. He currently holds a prestigious ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Professorial Fellowship at Leeds University where he has established the new Memory Research Group. He has written extensively on Autobiographical Memory.
War and Medicine

’War and Medicine’ is a groundbreaking exhibition which will consider the continually evolving relationship between warfare and medicine, beginning with the disasters of the Crimean War in the 1800s, and continuing through to today’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

’War and Medicine’ is the third major temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection, and is the second of a two-part collaboration with The Museum of Man (Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden).

For more details see the Wellcome Collection’s ‘War and Medicine’ pages.
Remembering War: Your Memories

Contribute, view and share your memories of war. An online web resource launched on Remembrance Day, 11 November, asks users to submit their personal memories of war. Martin Conway will analyse the information submitted to this website. ’Remembering War: Your Memories’ is part of ’Remembering War’, a major symposium to coincide with ‘War and Medicine’.

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

The Wellcome Trust’s former headquarters, the Wellcome Building on London’s Euston Road, has been redesigned by Hopkins Architects to become a new £30 million public venue. Free to all, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises three galleries, a public events space, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members’ club.

Arts Council England works to get great art to everyone by championing, developing and investing in artistic experiences that enrich people’s lives. As the national development agency for the arts, it supports a range of artistic activities from theatre to music, literature to dance, photography to digital art, and carnival to crafts.

Great art inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2008 and 2011, Arts Council England will invest £1.3 billion of public money from the Government and a further £0.3 billion from the National Lottery to create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.


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