Text for Rachel Garfield Opening Up,
‘Unsensed’, The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University, 19th September to 12th December 2015
Rachel Woodward and Matthew Rech

Rachel Garfield’s Opening Up is the second of her trilogy exploring growing up in specific types of family and environment. Opening Up originates in individuals’ recollections of growing up in military families, and the narratives of Garfield’s interviewees give voice to the perspectives of adults looking back on upbringings that were variously safe, disciplined, mobile, structured, advantageous, unusual and at times exciting. Footage from locations in the north east – families housing around Catterick Garrison, and the training ranges around Catterick and Otterburn – is intercut with combat footage from Afghanistan giving a sensibility to the film of connectivity between the extremes of quiet domesticity and the violence of armed engagement. A sense of watching and of being watched, of being the agent and object of surveillance, permeates the film. We are invited to consider what should and should not be seen, to wonder about the legitimacy of looking at the spaces of military domesticity and to ponder techniques of watching and observation used by Garfield, military forces, and of course ourselves as viewers. Where do we look, and what do we see, when we consider the domesticity of Army life?
A striking feature of Opening Up is the constant presence of borders, boundaries and barriers, and an often haunting sense of the conflict that is seemingly imminent in and around such spaces. The viewer is taken on a journey along high-topped wooden fences marking the boundary of a military family housing estate; presented with locked gates on windswept moorland and no-entry signage on the edge of restricted-access training areas; and in Afghanistan, we’re shown grainy, first-person headcam footage of soldiers pinned down and under fire, defending a line of trees which borders open farmland. Garfield provides us here with a collapsed-in vision of the insecurities that are so often attached to the dividing lines which criss-cross not only our everyday lives, but which are the cause, context and consequence of war.
In a similar way, Opening Up prompts us to think critically and otherwise about the many dichotomies inherent in official narratives and discourses of war. War, we’re told, happens ‘over there’ and in Other and anarchic spaces. War happens, moreover, to ensure the safety and sanctity of ‘our’ space ‘over here’. In presenting us with frequently overlapping and overlain audio, visual and narrative elements, Garfield encourages us to make connections between these spaces, and the people that inhabit them. In doing so she offers a potent reminder that war comes home, and that war shapes and is always deeply implicated in everyday lives.

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