Other Ranks - About

Other Ramblings - Some additional pieces of writing related to the making and showing of ‘Other Ranks’.

Currently in development.
A Multi-sensory sound-based installation by Amie Slavin

Scheduled for exhibition at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, in November 2012.

Reflecting on the vast numbers of lives lived in, and lost to armed combat, through the centuries...

So what is this Other Ranks all about then, exactly? What is it and what is it for?

Other Ranks is an Installation Art work; it happens in a space. We experience it by entering the space and going right inside the work; it surrounds us.

Around us, 16 speakers will stand in a rough oval. The speakers will be playing sounds:

We’ll hear the sounds of soldiery; marching, doing drill, handling weapons, tackling an assault course and training in urban warfare. These sounds move and swell around us, illustrating the unimaginably large number of people who have gone to war under a British flag.

The endless parade of marching feet is intended to turn our thoughts to the people inside those marching boots: each is a human being, a man prepared to give his life in combat. Each is the hero of his own story.

How many of us ever really consider what it has meant, through the centuries, for a hundred, a thousand, half a million troops to be killed in the various theatres of war? Each broken body is the culmination of a person’s life, their hopes and dreams.

A breed apart, or ordinary people, stepping up to do an extraordinary job?

Other Ranks will feature the voices of current and ex-soldiers, all ORs and NCOs, who have been on active service in dangerous places. They’re telling us about themselves; why they joined the Army; what the life has been like; the experience of returning to civilian life afterwards.

Alongside them, each playing out of just one of the 16 speakers, other voices will perform extracts from written sources, from classic fiction and poetry, well-known to all, to unpublished thoughts of the rank and file.

We are free to move about in the space marked out by the speakers. We can stand in the middle and hear the big sound of the entire piece, or we can approach one speaker at a time, listening closely to one voice, then another.

On the floor, between the speakers, small lanterns are placed, drawing our eyes down as we listen.

Outside the area edged by the speakers, empty boots will stand as a further reminder to us of the people, mostly men, who have worn those boots and made that ultimate promise to Queen and country. How many boots have been left standing empty, through the generations?

Under our feet, as we move around the space, the entire floor is covered with photographs, pictures of people, thousands of them, all overlapping and layering, an apparently numberless throng.

Many of the people in the photos on the floor are in uniform. The uniforms vary endlessly, but each one contains a unique person.

Among the uniformed folk we’ll also find other people, other pictures: some are the mothers, the sisters and the children. Some are the farmers, the entertainers and the cooks.

Many are civilians on "our" side or on "theirs".

They are all the victims of war; nobody is exempt; the floor is covered with pictures of humanity; those who can be shot, bombed, diseased or bereaved.

We step uneasily on the faces of humanity, reminded of the indiscriminate destructiveness of war. Our feet tread the photographic floor, as the war-monster tramples its prey. We are asked to take a brief moment to really think about what it means to be a victim of war, to be crushed by weaponry, collapsed infrastructure, lawlessness, injury, rape or starvation.

In our anguish at this facing of the brutality of warfare, we honour and commemorate the lives lost in wars, the officers, the civilians and, centrally, the ever-marching, Other Ranks.