CLAY FRONT -EN- 2017

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Clay Front is a contemporary artwork comprising ten sculptures that are dispersed throughout the space. Griet Dobbels has excavated clay from ten different locations in Flanders that were part of the front line during the First World War. History can be read within that clay. Thousands of soldiers’ bodies have never been recovered. They are enveloped by the earth to this day. The idea of countless people from all over the world being buried in the soil of the Ypres Salient is almost beyond comprehension. ‘Created from dust and returned to dust’ can be understood literally, poetically and cynically. At the same time, the brutality of the war contrasts sharply with the lightness and mundanity of our everyday existence. In her work, Griet Dobbels explores the boundaries between these extremes: grandeur and futility, transience and timelessness, beauty and horror. In Clay Front she uses the weight of the earth and works it into the lightness of a banal utensil. The people enveloped in that Flemish clay are given shape in the form of vessels. This tableware references the mothers, the women who fought their own battles on the home front. The ten groups of vessels are placed on sculptural softwood plinths of varying heights. Each element carries a natural stone engraved with the coordinates of one of the ten locations. This work is symbolic of war, both then and now. A metaphor for life and death. An ode to the people who stayed behind on the home front. It commemorates the missing soldiers who never returned home. Victims of imperialism. This work reminds us to always be vigilant. 

Clay Front Homecoming is a progression of Clay Front. From the very beginning of the Clay Front project, it was Griet Dobbels’ dream to return the clay to the soldiers’ countries of origins. They were sent to Belgium from all over the world. Today, they are finally returning home. Griet Dobbels has been collaborating with the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, which provided her with a list of 9,770 soldiers declared missing in action at the ten locations. There are no names on the list, but it does contain birthplaces and details of the sites where the men died. This list is never exhaustive, because the investigation continues. The research has resulted in a new installation entitled Clay Front Homecoming. The clay returns to missing soldiers’ hometowns in the form of small earthenware vessels. These are sealed, packaged and sent by post with two certificates. They are gifts to the cities from which the soldiers originated: from Weingarten (Germany) to Auckland (New Zealand), and from Woubrechtegem (Belgium) to Mers El Hadjadj (Algeria). 

Supported by: Cultuurcentrum CC Het Perron en In Flanders Fields Museum (Ieper) en Emergent (Veurne)

Clay Front, 2017, earthenware, wood, natural stone, ten sculptures of varying heights (ranging from 30 cm to 165 cm), each with a footprint of 40 x 40 cm. Each softwood plinth is inlaid with a natural stone carrying an engraved text. The ten texts refer to the ten locations (battlefield sites).