Vorticism: avant-garde art at the Tate Britain, London

VorticismIn the years before the outbreak of World War One, European artists developed a variety of different styles to reflect the pace of change and industrialization in what used to be a traditional continent.

Cubism and Futurism were two of the biggest movements. One of the briefest and most vibrant was Vorticism. The Vorticists started around 1913 and focused on the hard lines and quick pace of the machine age.

Now the Tate Britain in London is hosting a major exhibition on the movement called The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World. It brings together more than 100 Vorticist works from all the major players.

One of the leaders of the movement was Wyndham Lewis, although some Vorticists say the only reason he was popularly seen as the leader was because he gave more interviews to the press. He was certainly important, though. Lewis was the founder of the Vorticist journal Blast, the first issue of which had a hot pink cover and featured writings by T.S. Eliot and Ford Madox Ford. A whole section of the exhibition is dedicated to this journal and its groundbreaking design and typography.

Some of the rarer works on display include those from the many women welcomed into Vorticist ranks, a daring move at the time. There are also the Vorticist photos of Alvin Langdon Coburn, often hailed as the first abstract photographs. These photos will blow your mind and hurt your eyes.

%Gallery-126430%While Vorticism was mainly a British movement, this exhibition also explores its influences on the New York modern art scene. In fact, it was an American poet, Ezra Pound, who gave the movement its name.

The output of this movement was remarkably small. Blast only had two issues, and there were only two Vorticist exhibitions. World War One killed some of the Vorticists and left others embittered against the modern world. Yet Vorticism had a major impact on modern art and its works are still discussed and copied today. The two issues of Blast are still in print almost a century after they first appeared. One advantage of its brevity is that an exhibition of this size can encompass a majority of the major works, giving the visitor a full understanding of the meteoric life of one of modern art’s most intriguing avant-garde movements.

The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World opened yesterday and will run until September 4.

[Image of Workshop c. 1914-5, by Wyndham Lewis courtesy of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust]

Volunteers needed to excavate Lawrence of Arabia’s battles

Lawrence of ArabiaA team of British archaeologists working in Jordan is tracing the military campaign of Lawrence of Arabia, and they need your help.

T.E. Lawrence was an English archaeologist turned soldier who capture the public imagination during World War One when he helped the Arabs rebel against the Ottoman Empire. After its disastrous defeat at Gallipoli at the hands of the Ottomans, the British Empire needed some good news from the Middle Eastern front.

The ten-year project started in 2006 and has already studied Ottoman fortifications, the Hijaz Railway (a favorite target of the Arab rebels), and an Arab army base. Besides traditional archaeology, the team is also recording oral histories of communities living near the battlefields. While all veterans of the campaign are dead, Arab culture is very much an oral one and many war stories have been passed down.

The project, run by the University of Bristol, is looking for volunteers for this year. Volunteers will work from November 14-28 in southern Jordan. The cost for participating is a hefty £2,450 ($4,017) but that includes airfare, food, and a three-star hotel.

For more information, check out the project’s website and blog.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Touring World War One battlefields


On the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the First World War ended. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and it redrew the map of Europe. As the 100th anniversary of the start of the war approaches in 2014, there’s been an increased interest in visiting the places where it was fought.

War historian Mike Hanlon is leading three tours next year that investigate the Great War. Hanlon is the editor of Trenches on the Web, the definitive site on the subject. He’ll be leading guests of Valor Tours on visits of the battlefields of Europe, including some that aren’t seen very often.

From April 30-May 7 he leads The Great War Experience, starting in Brussels at the Royal Military Museum (one of the best military museums in the world, and I’ve seen a lot of them) and continuing through some of the most important battlefields of the Western Front. From July 18-31 he’ll offer a rare opportunity to visit the Italian Front. High in the Alps, the Italian army held off the Germans and Austro-Hungarians until their disastrous defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, immortalized in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Included in the itinerary is the Isonzo river valley, scene of no less than eleven bloody battles. As my post on military museums in Rome shows, it was a tough fight. Frozen bodies are still being found to this day. The third tour looks at how warfare has changed in the past 500 years. From August 3-11 guests will see Agincourt, Waterloo, the Somme, and the beaches of Normandy.

While these tours aren’t cheap (they start at $2,950) you’re sure to learn a lot. I’ve been reading Hanlon’s work for years and he’s undoubtedly one of the top experts in military history today, especially about World War One.

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[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Startling underwater discovery at Gallipoli battlefield


Underwater archaeologists exploring off the coast of Gallipoli, Turkey, have found a somber relic from the famous WWI battle. A barge that removed dead and wounded soldiers from the beachhead back to a hospital ship was found at the bottom of the sea. The team also found the wreck of the HMS Lewis, a British destroyer.

Gallipoli is a Turkish peninsula that controls access between the Black and the Aegean seas. It also guards the western approach to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which fought on Germany’s side in World War One. In 1915, UK’s First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill decided it was of crucial strategic importance and landed troops there. What followed was a disaster. Allied troops got pinned down on the beaches and endured months of constant fighting before they finally pulled out. The Turks suffered too, with each side losing a quarter of a million men.

The Allied side included not only UK, French, and Canadian troops, but also a large number of men from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The ANZACs, as they’re commonly called, became heroes back home and are national icons to this day. The hospital barge was found near ANZAC Cove, shown here, and was probably sunk while carrying casualties from this famous unit.

Gallipoli is one of the most popular destinations in Turkey. Faint traces of the trenches from 90 years ago are still visible, and guided tours show visitors the locations of the various armies fighting it out for control of the beach and overlooking mountains.

A nice detail about this story is that the archaeologists are a joint Australian-Turkish team. Looks like these folks are remembering their history while putting it behind them.

Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.