Mercedes Kemp
100:UnEarth Artistic Lead/Writer/Researcher

The Garden of Lost Souls

In the early stages of planning 100:UnEarth we were working with the concept of “Lives Not Lived”, that is, lives that had been interrupted and disrupted by war . It was always part of the plan to create links between WW1 and contemporary conflict. For an intensive three months I made contact and interviewed veterans from wars in the Falklands, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and their families. I was struck by the level of emotion pervading these interviews. Frustration, regret, trauma, permeated our conversations, but also a deep sense of humanity outraged. Many of the people who kindly gave me their time and their memories suffered from PTSD, a condition who would have been present amongst WW1 soldiers, but not recognized or tolerated at the time. Our conversations resulted in the images that populated “The Garden of Lost Souls”, an area of the Underworld where souls endlessly played and replayed moments that had had an impact on them and from which they couldn’t move on.

This are some of the real stories that underpinned the images:

He said: “Twice I went over and sat underneath hospital beds with patients – guys who were still working in the forces who had come in for routine operations but because their minds weren’t on their job they had time to think about what had happened. Twice I sat underneath the bed and talked to them and then basically ordered them into bed, even though some of them were senior to me in rank. I would just say ‘can you now get into your bed’ and they would.” Some weeks after this conversation I visited the Imperial War Museum with Ellie, who designed this part of the Underworld, and watched some scratchy black and white footage of soldiers diving under their hospital beds in the grip of PTSD after WW1. Out of this imagery grew the PTSD ward we sited in the gardens, where crazed men obsessively replayed moments of horror.

A medic who had dealt with the carnage of war in the precarious context of a field hospital spoke of the terrible spectacle of burned men covered in Flamazine cream, with their hands wrapped in see-through plastic bags, unable to do anything for themselves. He then went on to say: “It was like the parable of the long spoons, where Heaven and Hell are the same, you only have very long spoons. In Hell you had the same big spoons but you couldn’t feed yourself because the big spoons wouldn’t let you. The difference was that in Heaven, you fed each other and that was exactly what they did. Without being told what to do, without even thinking about it they just started looking after each other, going around with torches and giving each other a drink out of feeder beakers or helping each other with the food. It was very emotional because we were in a very, very dark place.”

A veteran told me about sailing home at the end of the Falklands conflict. The ship was transporting exhausted troops back home. It was a long journey. There was a cinema on board and the men were encouraged to select their viewing each evening. There was a wide choice of films: Action films, Westerns, X-rated movies. Every night without fail the men chose to watch Walt Disney’s Peter Pan.

In our Underworld we followed the logic of the garden, where death and regeneration follow each other in and endless cycle. Where every wound and every burn is a flower bursting upon the suffering bodies of the victims.


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