a book by Zach Phillips
GENERATIONS presents a new way of looking at the history of the First World War. Through the book and gallery experience a viewer is confronted by images of cheering crowds, colorful propaganda posters, and bodily destruction. However things are not quite as they seem. Within the frame of an image, figures and actions repeat, what appear at first to be crowds of people shift and change upon closer looking. Taken together, one is left to question the seemingly empirical qualities of the archive and the promises of propaganda.
The 20th century since its very beginning has been characterized by excess. With the rise of Taylorism in the decades before the turn of the century, industral production expanded beyond imagination. A new world was to be envisioned, one of multitudes. An era scored by the slow methodical rhythms of the assembly line.
Then the seemingly inevitable war.
“The war of 1914 was ignorant of the realities; it was still serving a delusion, the dream of a better world, a world that would be just and peaceful. And only delusion, not knowledge, bring happiness. That was why the victims went to the slaughter drunk and rejoicing, crowned with flowers and wearing oak leaves on their helmets, while the streets echoed with cheering and blazed with light, as if it was a festival.”
How do you find humanity in death tolls which exist in the millions, tens of millions? Let alone those who were ground to ash a century ago. There can be little solidarity for victims remembered as statistics, as numbers within larger numbers.
How then to feel what has happened, not just understand an abstract cost?
The people you will see, lived, and dreamed as you do. Their hopes for the future, their concerns for the present died with them. Their world, the world of yesterday, is no more. It exists only in fragments, on film, in photographs, diaries, letters, posters, newspapers, songs, and sayings. Which now exist isolated incidents, divorced from their moment. A century later, what has survived remains cataloged, organized, and stored within archives large and small.
There are countless stories (aphoristic or otherwise) which could not be transcribed or told here, reams of statistics which could not be organized, thousands of moments undocumented and lost to this present moment. The information which can be found here is a small fragments of a larger story. Excerpts from diaries, letters, official documents, retroactive examinations, poetry, and larger histories; all fragments assembled here to show, in part, a personal examination of the First World War.
What follows is an attempt to make sense of it all.
What follows is far from complete.
What follows is all true.