Following an invitation from Donald Smith, Director of Exhibitions at Chelsea Space, artist Peter Fillingham and myself were delighted to take part in an event at Chelsea College of Art on Armistice Day, 11th November 2014. In partnership with the charity The London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled, who were invited to bring along a group of World War II veterans, this was an event that addressed issues of commemoration within contemporary society.
A fleet of London Black Cabs brought veterans to the imposing Parade Ground outside the college to observe a two-minute silence at 11am, in remembrance of all those who have lost their lives in conflict. A crowd of students, lecturers, Black Cab drivers, special guests and passers-by took part. There was also an impressive turnout from the charity itself, whose standard was proudly carried by veteran Richard Forrester. An unexpected air-raid signal at 11AM from a building site nearby helped ensure that nobody was unaware of the silence and its significance. This was only enhanced by the presence of so many elderly veterans.
This moving event was followed by an informal social gathering, lunch and beer provided by Chelsea Arts Club. Over the last year or two I have been gently persuading the charity to make music a pivotal part of their meetings with the public, as well as to take them into new contexts. As has now become a delightfully regular occurrence, some of the veterans sang along to Les Eastwood on the piano, whilst Peter Kent, 90 going on 21, showed us some moves.
In the afternoon, Peter, Donald and myself convened a discussion around issues of contemporary memorial, monuments and art for Masters students at the college, who clearly loved meeting and talking to the veterans and were staggered by their joyful singing. What followed was a lively, surprising and provocative discussion, all the more interesting perhaps because the students themselves come from all over the world, and so came to the event with a wide variety of perspectives.
Personally, it was wonderful to see the charity recognised in such a splendid setting, and to bring about more interactions between the veterans and those who might never normally be lucky enough to meet them.
With thanks to The London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled, Gavin Freeborn for the great photos, Donald Smith and Sinead Bligh at Chelsea Space for all their work.