The Great War: an Orkney Memorial Experience

News from Orkney Islands Council

The walls of Orkney’s St Magnus Cathedral were transformed this evening (Thursday 1 November) as the internationally significant building became the canvas for a short film marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Orkney WW1 projection - media two

‘The Great War: an Orkney Memorial Experience’ explores the conflict through the lens of life in the islands at the time.

Projected directly on to the red and yellow sandstone walls of the majestic Cathedral, the film draws inspiration from the many events and stories associated with Orkney’s wartime heritage, combining archive imagery with beautiful hand drawn illustration into a visually spectacular animation.

The 20-minute film was specially commissioned by the Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative – a Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland funded project – for the centenary of the First World War armistice. The project is supported by Orkney Islands Council’s Arts Development team

It will run on a loop eight times from 5pm each evening between now and Remembrance Day on 11 November.

At around 7.40pm each night it will come to a rest on the final image – a tree, made up of the names of Orcadians who died in WWI, in a field of poppies.

Glasgow-based specialists Playdead were engaged to create the film, and pupils from Glaitness Primary and Kirkwall Grammar schools involved in the creation of the work.

Pupils gathered rubbings from trees and the Cathedral’s stonework to incorporate into the visuals.

Pupils were also asked to come up with words which describe how war makes them feel. These were fed into the final ‘tree’ image as hanging fruit – with words such as ‘pain’ and ‘fear’ slowly blossoming into words such as ‘light’ and ‘hope’ – a nod to the resilience and courage as the local community recovered from the war.

Kevin McCrae, Creative Director and Founder of Playdead, said:

“After speaking to local people and school children about what they’d like to see and seeing what we could draw on from archives as well, we thought it would be good to develop a series of sequences which looked at the war and its impacts in Orkney from a range of angles.

“Spectators will see snippets of what soldiers would have experienced, but also there’s scenes which explore how farmers and school children would have been affected, as well as a look at what propaganda people here would have seen, and images from after the war of how the end of the conflict was celebrated and how it was commemorated.

“There are some big technical challenges associated with projecting onto a surface like the St Magnus Cathedral. It’s such an iconic building in the heart of Kirkwall and we wanted to do justice to it – so we have done a lot of work to take into account the uneven surfaces and to choose a colour palette that would really work with the beautiful red stone.

“This is the largest projection project we have worked on and is the first-time outdoor projection of this scale has been attempted in Orkney. We hope everyone enjoys seeing the film as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it, and that it speaks to them in some way.”

Harvey Johnston,Convener of Orkney Islands Council,  said:

“There were 578 dead from Orkney as a result of World War One – a huge loss for a community of around 25,000 at the time.

“As we mark 100 years since the end of the First World War it’s important to remember not just our loved ones who didn’t come back and the holes they left, but also the lasting impact on those left behind.

“There was also a huge cost to those who did come back from battle – the physical and mental scars they bore and the impact of that on countless families in our community and further afield was tremendous.

“This film offers us all the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice made by Orcadians during the war and the courage of those left behind to carry on both during the conflict and after it ended.”

Richard Ritch,Kirkwall THI’s Project Manager,  said the film will be another important reminder of Orkney and Kirkwall’s pivotal role in the war.

“We often look at the town’s heritage and history through a medieval or Viking lens, but more recent events have also shaped the built environment and community we experience today,” he said.

“I think it will drive home the reality of the war for past generations, as well as engender a greater understanding and appreciation of our islands’ unique stories.”

‘The Great War: An Orkney Memorial Experience’ will run for the final time between 5pm and 8pm on Remembrance Day, 11 November.

Orkney WW1 projection - media one

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