The White War
The white war is a site-specific art installation by British artist Sarah Kogan, for the conclusion of the First World War centenary. It forms part of her four-year project Changing the Landscape. The work is curated by Stephen Nelson for Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Cogliandrino (MACC), a non-profit artist-run space in Basilicata, southern Italy.
Kogan’s installation consists of a large format 1916 First World War photograph of the Italian Alpini troops, who were conscripted from Basilicata during 1915-18. The image will be installed within an isolated bus stop on the edge of the mountainous Pollino National Park, Basilicata. The Alpini fought the Central Powers, primarily the Austrian army, from trenches imbedded in the snow of the mountain border, leading to catastrophic loss of life and the title of the Italian campaign: the white war.
Whilst paying homage to the losses suffered by the Basilicata Regiment, the piece references religious iconographic images of martydom, with the Alpini and their weapons reminiscent of frescos and paintingsof Christ carrying the cross on Golgotha, in addition to the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who filmed The Gospel According to St. Matthew in Basilicata.
The image chosen by Kogan was first used by the Austrian troops on a postcard in 1916, emphasising the use of photography during the First World War as a propaganda tool. This reference continues through the use of a bus shelter to display the work, as they are traditionally sites for advertising.
The viewing of the artwork, outside of the traditional photographic frame, is a theme Kogan returns to, mirroring the other works in the Changing the Landscape series, which were displayed in a series of museum archival boxes and viewed from a bird’s eye perspective. In this instance the bus shelter structure is integral to how we view the embedded image, which is broken up into panels and dissected by metal crosses and struts. By changing the context with which we view historic images, Kogan seeks to contemporise the archival and reassess their relevance for today.