McKernan, Michael: WWI: Love & Sorrow

McKernan, Michael

WWI: Love & sorrow‘, reCollections (National Museum of Australia), 10, 1, 2015

Review of this exhibition, which is at the Melbourne Museum until November 2018.

This is an exhibition [says McKernan] that openly and deliberately works on the emotions of its visitors to proclaim its strong and powerful message: war is an unmitigated and abhorrent disaster and we need always to be conscious of its enduring impacts across subsequent generations. This exhibition is anything but a celebration of the centenary of the First World War … Put simply, it is the most exquisite, moving, and intense exhibition on aspects of the First World War that I have seen anywhere in the world.

The exhibition uses interactive videos, as well as documents and letters, to follow the stories of eight characters intimately affected by the Great War. The exhibition opens with a wheeled bed where lay a wounded soldier, Albert Ward, for 43 years after the war.

From the start, Love & Sorrow is saying that the war was not over when the last gun was silenced. The war would drag on for Albert and for so many others for at least 43 years, but the visitor will learn that it goes on much longer than that …

Then, at the end of the exhibition, there are video interviews done in 2014 with family members of the eight characters covered.

They show the visitor that the effects of the war have been carried through to the present in the love and sorrow each of these relatives manifest for their forebear. The effect of the war was not 43 years, scary as that seemed at the first exhibit. The impact of the war has endured for at least 100 years and is still ongoing, as the videos make clear.

McKernan notes that there is very little about battle in Love & Sorrow. In the Australian War Memorial, on the other hand, battle is front and centre (see reviews here, here and here). The Memorial deals in emotion also. (At Senate Additional Estimates, Director Nelson referred to the Memorial’s Afghanistan exhibition, ‘which is extraordinarily powerful. There is immense emotion revealed in that exhibition.’) Love & Sorrow shows that the purpose for which emotion is employed is all-important.


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