Yorkshire Sculpture Park
This summer, a new work by UK contemporary artist Katrina Palmer will be unveiled at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, and YSP, The Coffin Jump takes as a point of departure the role of an extraordinary group of women in the First World War.
Combining sculpture, soundtrack and performance, The Coffin Jump symbolises the new freedoms afforded to women in the war, with specific reference to the all-female First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY).
Founded in 1907, Captain Edward Baker’s conception of this organisation was of women on horseback riding to the rescue of fallen men in the battlefield. Although they ultimately drove motored ambulances, their role was and continues to be as powerfully independent and transformative as this original vision.
At YSP, visitors will see an intervention in the historic deer park, comprising an inscribed fence above a trench. This negative horizon, a line that cuts across the landscape and descends into a shallow depression, resonates with the trench as a site of mortality but also new beginnings as the woman on horseback cheats death.
In spite of the nurses’ courage, the British Army initially refused to be associated with the liberated women of the FANY. So instead they supported the French and Belgian armies, running hospitals and driving ambulances.
Palmer makes reference to their battle against prejudice through words drawn from sources including the 1918 diaries of member Muriel Thompson. Hand-painted on the horse jump, phrases such as ‘woman saves man’ and ‘nothing special happened’ highlight the everyday heroism of women during the First World War, capturing the sense that the women were doing their job and getting on with what had to be done in a practical manner.
The work will occasionally be activated by a horse and local rider who will gallop across the Park and make the jump. A symbol of independent mobility and action, capturing the emergence of female emancipation, the galloping horse also echoes the death of Emily Davison who famously stepped in front of the King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.
In her work, Palmer uses writing as a form of sculpture in which the object is elaborated through spatialised narratives and evoked in the reader’s or listener’s imagination. Palmer places sculpture in writing through published stories, live readings, audio recordings and constructed environments.
The Coffin Jump is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and YSP, made possible with Art Fund support. Special thanks to Sir David Verey, The Henry Moore Foundation and The Clothworkers’ Company.