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Comment News

Lights Out: Remembering the First World War

4 August 2014

A century ago today, Britain entered the First World War. Around 16 million people would die over the following four years, either in combat or as a direct result of the upheavals of global conflict. Over 20 million more were injured, but of course the total human cost is frankly unquantifiable.

The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

It was on the eve of war that the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey is said to have uttered his now famous lament, but the remark seems particularly poignant with hindsight. As the First World War itself slips out of living memory, today’s society still lives under its shadow. How do you commemorate the people who lived through or died in the years 1914–18, without ossifying our contemporary understanding of the conflict and its social and political legacy?

Tonight Grey’s words will form the inspiration for a major commemorative event. From 10–11pm, monuments across Britain will turn out their lights and replace them with a single candle, to mark the moment when the world went to war. Everyone across the country is invited to do the same.

14–18 NOW, the government-funded centenary commission which has organised ‘Lights Out’, has concentrated throughout its programme on encouraging conversations about the war, and multiplying the voices that contribute to its commemoration. ‘Lights Out’ does that too: four artists have been invited to create new, public works of art (detailed below) to coincide with the event, and will no doubt form a hub for people who wish to take part.

But the event’s real value will surely lie not just in how many people visit, watch, and discuss the artworks, but how many light a candle, wherever they are. Like the Remembrance Day silences each year, it’s an opportunity for a country-wide hiatus, and a pause for thought.

‘Lights Out’ will take place from 10–11pm on Monday 4 August, across the country. It is part of 14–18 NOW, an ongoing series of art commissions marking the First World War centenary.

The Commissions

In Search of Vanished Blood
Nalini Malani
10.30pm–midnight, Monday 4 August 2014
Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL

Malani will transform the Scottish National Gallery’s façade into a screen for projected imagery and shadows reflecting on the impact of the First World War.

What unites human beings, ears, eyes, loves, hopes and toes is huge and wonderful. What divides human beings is small and mean.
Bob and Roberta Smith
10pm–11pm, Monday 4 August 2014
Belfast City Hall, East Lawn, Belfast, BT1 5GS

Community groups from across Belfast have been invited by visual artist Bob & Roberta Smith to reconstruct a phrase from his Letter to an Unknown Soldier. Each group will design and make a letter, and the collective installation will be unveiled, by candle light, this evening.

Bedwyr Williams
10pm – 11pm, Monday 4 August 2014
WW1 North Wales Memorial Arch, Bangor, LL57 2TL

A large-scale light projection depicting the faces of local soldiers killed in the First World War will form the focal point of Bedwyr Williams’ commission, underpinned by the slowed-down beating of a clock, whose sound will resonate through the city.

Lights Out
Jeremy Deller
1 August 2014–4 August 2014

Jeremy Deller has created a series downloadable video works responding to the impact and legacy of war. A final video will be available to view for just one hour during ‘Lights Out’.