Dulce Et Cecorum Est Pro Patria Mori

Last century “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” was quoted by patriotic militarists, especially by English Imperialists to send soldiers to war with the promise of glory. This exhibition, however, shares the view of Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem of the same title in that: the soldier's death is neither sweet nor becoming, but gruesome and undignified. The horror of such an unnatural death can be clearly seen in the black and white exhibition photograph of the discarded body of an American Civil War soldier in a trench in 1864 or of the slumped body of a French peasant executed for treason in 1914.

Colonialism and World War I are the subjects of this first segment of the Heart of Darkness project. World War I as a result of the imperialistic ambitions of the European powers is the Ur-catastrophe from which originated World War II. Without the millions of dead in the trenches of both western and eastern fronts and the radicalization of a whole generation of young men that resulted from the experience, the names Adolph Hitler, Valdimir Ulanovich Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tze Dong would be absent from the world’s history books as would be many of the subsequent stellvertrerkriege on the African, Asian and South American continents.

From a conceptual point of view (as I am a German native) it was imperative that the Heart of Darkness project premiered in France at a location related to World War I history. I am therefore grateful that the organizers of the L’Ete photographique de Lectoure, an event sponsored by the French government, made the Maison St. Louis available as an installation site.

The Maison St. Louis is a typical official building with large window shutters and a war memorial surrounded by a square with the French flag as can be found all throughout provincial France. The war memorial, however, is unusually elaborate: a large obelisk is crowned by a statue of Nike, the Goddess of Victory, holding two wreaths in each hand commemorating the dead soldiers of two world wars. It bears the inscription “pour la patrie”, for the fatherland.

At the exact height of the inscription which is visible through the second floor windows, fifteen color and black and white photographs are installed in four naturally lit rooms which occasionally housed a large number of war refugees from the Haut - Rhine region. The natural light is reflected in the images, especially the large color landscapes, and the sounds of Lectoure, the town with a sizeable cemetery for Senegalese soldiers. Travel the exhibition space and fill it with life, with the Here and Now.

Each segment of the Heart of Darkness project has its own color code. The color code for Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori is blue - grey, greenish blue in reference to the French uniform in WWI, the color of the fog of war, the slimy mud in the trenches, but also the color of the window shutters in the Midi.

Bettina WitteVeen