Here Now & Looking Back - St Helens 1914-1918

An AIR North digital artist in residence by St Helens Arts in Library Services

Over the last few months of 2014 Artist Benedict Phillips travelled with Archaeologist John Oxley and Sound Recordist Glenn Boulter between seven libraries (Rainford, Billinge, Garswood, Haydock, Eccleston, Moss Bank and Central Library) all in the north of St Helens. During these travels they met with many people who have small family archives of photographs, objects and documents from WW1.

Working with these families and their collections, Benedict developed an interactive artwork, book and this website. The sequencing of the images in the artwork follows a simple pattern in the main, first introducing you to a person through a photograph and then following this with related documents which often reveal the fate of the individual, i.e. the presence of a pristine document from the king reveals a death as clearly as a battered folded old discharge papers reveals an individuals survival of The Great War.

Many of the artifacts in this artwork would never have been seen publicly, as most are from personal family archives. These objects are often far too delicate to be handled, and this artwork gives you access to and an experience of these hundred-year-old photographs and documents without the danger of ever degrading or damaging them.

The presentation of the Artwork was partly inspired by the idea and look of the microfiche machines that have been used for over one hundred years in UK libraries. Unlike a traditional microfiche, this artwork has been built by bringing together a mix of computer hardware, games technology and WebGL (Web Graphics Library), and a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D computer graphics within a web browser, which is still considered an experimental platform.

Benedict Phillips would like to publicly thank all the families and individuals who volunteered their time, stories and artifacts in the making of this artwork. He would also like to thank the libraries staff for their time and effort and the cups of tea, as well as the art team for their support and the trust they placed in me.

Special thanks go out to Glenn Boulter, John Oxley, Andrey Pissantchev and Dominic Hopkinson for his work on the artwork cabinet; and Joanna for her insight and conversation about photography.