Henningham Family Press
16cm x 25cm
Night Watch is the first of four screenprint limited editions that mark the First World War Centenary in 2014. These were commissioned for sale as limited edition screenprints and for reproduction as colour plates in a replica of the Active Service Gospel.
The image of a soldier on Night Watch has often been employed as a metaphor for enduring suffering or waiting for enlightenment. He is a man made aware of his own weakness by the hardships he endures, but he waits faithfully until daybreak, and vindication. As this soldier struggles to stay awake his body has assumed the shape of a hermit tormented in the wilderness or the collapsing form of the fallen soldier. He has his back turned on his trench periscope, the reflected image this offers stands for illusion. The moon and stars are printed with glow-in-the-dark ink, and stand for the light that the darkness cannot overcome. We were interested to find that the trenches were planned as an extension of the human body and, like a grave stretching off into infinity, took the length of a foot, shin and arm for their makeshift construction. This print is essentially about confusion and disillusionment; wondering how you got somewhere and clinging to the hope of getting out the other side.
Our colour plates introduce the legacy of the First World War into a document that lived in the trenches. The tragedy of WW1 is absent from the pages of the Active Service Gospel because it unfolded around them. SGM asked us to reference the Modernist artwork of the time, exploring the tension between Vorticist individualism and Futurist machine-worship.
We found the Scripture Gift Mission story as interesting as it is moving. Their tradition of offering gospels without any social agenda attached, to anyone who wants or needs one, allowed them to mass produce words of comfort and encouragement without partiality, during a war where words had already been slain by mass-produced propaganda. A staggering 42 million Active Service Gospels were made, a testament to the demand. Some were accepted gladly, others with derision, and some with derision that became devotion. The trenches were a place where some lost faith and others found it. The story of the Active Service Gospel is a little-known history, one that highlights the fact that nothing that comes off a printing press is neutral.
A SGM Lifewords commission
Read more about the project here