Explore Your Archive: Animating the Evacuee Archive

Sonya Chenery is currently undertaking a PhD project – funded as part of the university’s Collections-Based Research programme – to engage with, intervene in and animate aspects of this archive within a range of publicly accessible spaces. We are delighted that Sonya has agreed to share an insight into her work in progress as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, as an example of creative work inspired by archives.

Being part of the University of Reading’s  Collections-Based Research Programme has given me the opportunity to work with a fascinating collection of material relating to the evacuation of children during World War II. The Evacuee Archive includes a large number of full written accounts by former evacuees remembering their experiences during the conflict. I am currently developing a mixed-media installation for my practice-led PhD project ‘Animating The Evacuee Archive’, with the Department of Film, Theatre & Television. This video and audio clip reveals some of the elements I am working on for the installation.

The video footage is based on some of the rituals and characters who appear in these accounts, including a description of an elderly lady who would  cook meals in a cauldron by the fire on Sundays:

‘She was a petite woman, with a ready smile and a hooked nose. All this, combined with her black clothing, her widow’s weeds, gave her a witch-like quality’ (D EVAC A/1/18).

My decision to film the performers in silhouette is intended to draw attention to the fact that it is a reinterpretation of a memory, rather than a re-enactment striving for verisimilitude. In the completed installation, I want to project these silhouettes so that they inhabit the space with the audience.

The audio is created from my own field recordings which refer to the many accounts of evacuees’ journeys in steam trains, with the sound of aircraft overhead. One of the evacuee accounts refers to the first night away from home having been spent sleeping on the floor of a village hall, and being awakened by someone playing Land of Hope and Glory.  I recorded myself attempting to play this tune on the piano from memory, and interspersed the field recordings with snatches of the melody, in order to further explore notions of memory, and ways in which performance can engage with acts of remembering. 

Find out more about Sonya Chenery and her work


You can explore The Evacuee Archive in the reading room at the Museum of English Rural Life by appointment.

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