Tales from the underworld – Chapter 1

By Mercedes Kemp
100:UnEarth Artistic Lead/Writer/Researcher

This summer, as part of the national 14-18 NOW programme of commemoration of the centenary of WW1, WildWorks staged 100:UnEarth at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The piece was a companion to 100:The Day Our World Changed, which marked the beginning of a 4 year collaboration with Heligan.

Many of you will have experienced one or both of these events. And some of you might be wondering: how did these stories come to be?

Our work is composed like a collage on a large scale, using fragments from many different sources: archives, myths, photographs, film footage, poetry, libraries, cemeteries, artefact collections, but, above all, it uses the memory of people and place to construct an immersive world in which the stories come to life. These are the elements we use to create a show. It is a very involved, lengthy process of research. What follows will hopefully throw some light into this process and reveal some of the back stories to the images you experienced in 100:UnEarth

The great writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote that “The reality that operates in a work of fiction is different from the reality of life, although it is based on it, just as in dreams.” This sentence has always been at the forefront of my thinking about our work . The idea that no worthwhile work can be purely the outcome of the imagination, but that every story has its roots in something real, and that the work of the artist is to heighten the real, to make it bigger. I like the idea that this is what we do when we dream.

100:UnEarth was a many layered work. The structure was that of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the hero’s journey into the underworld in his attempt to pluck the beloved from death.

Orpheus returns from war to his beloved wife Eurydice. On the day they are reunited she is killed in a tragic accident. Orpheus cannot accept her death and embarks on an audacious quest to pluck her out of the Underworld. A journey between the worlds. In 100:UnEarth there was a clear distinction between the world of the living and the world of the dead. A world within a world.

The world of the living was firmly set in the context of the First World War. The war has ended. The men are coming home. Many are damaged, broken. They return to the families they left behind. Their women have learned to survive alone, to be self-reliant, work the land, feed themselves and their children. Nothing will ever be the same.

The world of the dead is an altogether stranger place, as Mydd, our designer put it “like a dream that you want to wake up from”.



Image : WildWorks / Steve Tanner / Mercedes Kemp

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