Sunday, January 25, 2009

World War One Sculpted Graffiti !

Another book I had the very good fortune to serendipitously find recently is shown here. It was produced principally by two gentlemen, Michel Boittiaux and Hervé Vatel, along with supporting work by members of an association named "Soissonais 14 - 18". The region from Soissons to Compiegne was heavily quarried for limestone over the centuries preceeding the first World War, leaving a swiss cheese terrain of caverns underground many of which are kilometres long, containing winding tunnels and chambers. Both German and French troops took advantage of such shelters to find refuge from the infernal artillery bombardments which were the trademark of that conflict. While sheltering from the storm in these places many artistically inclined soldiers took advantage of their long hours of dreadful boredom to carve graffiti in a wide variety of forms in the easily sculpted sandstone. Many such efforts were true works of art of surprising complexity, sensitivity, and sheer beauty.
This book is a work of art in itself, containing excellent photographs of large numbers of poignant examples of the graffiti sculptures, as well as meticulously researched anecdotes about incidents occurring during the war in the places where the graffiti was located. The authors and their association have performed a monumental and astonishing amount of work already documenting many sites for posterity, racing against vandals, thieves, and the ravages of tiem. But chatting with Michel Boittiaux this evening on the telephone, he assures me there remains much work to be done, and many sites containing graffiti carved there by troops have yet to be explored. The Germans had the unfriendly habit of blowing up the entrances to shelters to prevent them from being used again, so some have not been entered since 1918. With a little luck I may be able to participate in some upcoming expeditions... and will keep you informed. Some of the earlier posts below in this blog contain photographs taken inside the only cavern of this nature that I have visited so far, which I found purely by chance. Anyway, if you are interested in bas relief sculpture and war graffiti, don't miss this book, it is a "must".

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