In 2014 the Imperial War Museum launched a 4 year programme of events and exhibitions to commemorate the 1914-1918 Centenary of World War 1. Born in Cyprus on 15th August 1914, the month and year WWI was declared, Nicola Lane’s mother Diana also celebrated her centenary in 2014.
AT HOME: A Living Centenary 1914-2014 arose from the process of deconstructing & re-enacting a 1934 photograph of Diana and her first husband at a formal 'luncheon' in their house in Famagusta, Cyprus: attempting to construct a family narrative in spite of a world erased by time and Diana’s memory loss, in parallel with WW1 Commemorations encouraging the nation to remember.
In the photograph we see Diana, very pretty in an off the shoulder lace dress, sitting on the right next to an Admiral. He is Sir William Fisher, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, and research indicates that the photograph was taken when the Mediterranean Fleet visited Famagusta in 1934, as increasing unrest in the Middle East & Europe foreshadowed the conflicts of World War 2. The Admiral has moved his chair away from the table, to allow whoever is photographing the scene a clear view of the guests. There is a blurry reflection of the photographer in the polished wood of the table. John Cunningham, Flag Captain to the Admiral, is at the head of the table and next to him is Diana's first husband, in a dark uniform. The other guests are young naval officers in beautiful white uniforms and pretty girls in long 1930s flowered dresses.
The lunch guests are all gone, but the photograph & Diana remain. In her 100th year the important people in her world are the carers and healthcare professionals enabling her to live at home.
In 2014 Arts Council England and Camden Arts & Tourism funded AT HOME: A Living Centenary 1914-2014 as part of WW1 commemorations. Nicola invited Diana’s District Nurses, GP, carers, London Ambulance paramedics, A&E nurses, and Firefighters from West Hampstead Fire Station, to re-enact the 1934 lunch party. The table & settings were re-created in Swiss Cottage Gallery by production designer Thalia Ecclestone and her creative team. Cinematographer Ben Hecking and his crew lit the scene to replicate the light in the photograph.
The re-enactment was filmed from start to finish and could be seen by the public through Swiss Cottage Gallery’s glass doors, a 4th wall to the participants’ performance:
The narrative of the AT HOME film was constructed through the search for clues & meaning in the photograph's details, the light within the room, the interactions of the guests. Diana can only retrieve fragments from the past and the present, but she recalled the dress she is wearing in the photograph, which means we know it was pink lace, and she recalled the silver cocktail shaker on the sideboard against the far wall: “...a wedding present from the head of the Ottoman Bank…”
The 2014 lunch guests were served with a menu selected from Diana's 1930s housekeeping book. Nicola wrote for the Love Camden website:
"Unlike her memories, the notebook has survived Diana’s long life - as did the 1934 photograph that inspired the exhibition. Visitors to the exhibition have shown great interest in the menu - recipes are often handed down in families from one generation to the next, part of the transmission of memories, history & cultural identity within our lives. As Diana’s memories faded & her ability to cook meals ended, it is wonderful (as with all archives from the past) to see these beautiful meals stored on such fragile, decaying 80 year old pages. It was very moving to transcribe from the relic of the book the recipes my mother cooked for us, deciphering her faded handwriting from pages stained with decades of cooking..."
Footage of the lunch party re-enactment was interwoven with photographs & documents from Diana's personal archives, including the record of her evacuation from Cyprus in 1941, when it was feared the Nazis would invade. This was a long and dangerous journey by troop ship through the Mediterranean, which ended in East Africa, where Diana lived until the end of the War.
AT HOME reflected on the re-enactments of history within Diana's 100 year old timeline. Then, as now, 'illegal' refugees risked their lives in overcrowded ships on the Mediterranean Sea.
The end of lunch was photographed as in 1934, the gestures re-created by the guests.
From L to R: Diana's day carer, a representative from Camden's Frail & Elderly Commissioning Group, A&E staff, Diana's GP, a paramedic, the Belsize Team District Nurses, Diana's night carer, Diana herself, and a senior representative from London Ambulance at Camden's Cressy Road. (The West Hampstead fire fighters had to leave the lunch party early, to attend a fire).
From this material Nicola created the ‘Living Centenary’ immersive installation in Swiss Cottage Gallery. Wall-based images explored the fragmentation of memory through juxtapositions of past & present.
The projected AT HOME film and its soundtrack animated the abandoned lunch table, empty chairs, and the Gallery space.
The lunch table and its 12 chairs were used as a platform for discussion and audience interaction, with a programme of talks and events - including this discussion with KOVE (Kilburn Older Voices Exchange), Nicola's partners in the project:
AT HOME: A Living Centenary 1914-2014
Lead Artist: Nicola Lane
Cinematography: Ben Hecking
Sound recordist: Francis Cullen
Additional recording/sound design: Louis Morand
Production design: Thalia Ecclestone
Production assistant: Harvey Herman
Production Chef: Beatriz Rodriguez
Textiles: Sophie Openshaw
Curated in partnership with London Borough of Camden.
Archives relating to the exhibition were uploaded to the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of World War 1 site.