Exhibition explores fraternity in the armed forces 0
To be in the military is to live in another world; the survival of a unit requires it.
Soldiers must feel different, apart, from society, the public and especially the “enemy.”
It requires isolation, but it simultaneously fosters a familial bond unmatched in the everyday world, says artist Scott Waters.
For more than a decade, Waters has been exploring that relationship through his paintings of Canadian soldiers at home and abroad and he will be bringing some of that work to Haliburton starting Oct. 20.
“My interest in discussing the military is from a social or philosophical point of view – what’s it like to be a soldier, why would one choose to be a soldier, the ramifications of those decisions,” Waters said in an interview from his Toronto studio.
“In the long game, I’m interested in trying to offer that perspective to the broader Canadian public as a way to understand what is going to take place as all these soldiers start to deal with their experiences in Afghanistan both good and bad,” he said.
Caught between two worlds – of a military brotherhood and of the civilian culture they will one day return to – soldiers occupy a unique position in Canadian society.
Waters’s work comes from both his experience as part of the Canadian Forces as an infantry soldier as the Cold War was ending and as a trained artist embedded with the military on two occasions, before the war in Afghanistan and in Kabul with a group that was training the Afghan National Army.
“The works that I’m showing bracket a war, but they don’t really show a war,” Waters said, “They talk about soldiers training to deploy and soldiers being on the more boring end of things after the fact.”
He leaves the detailed documentation to the journalists, using his art to interpret the military experience.
The pieces he will bring to Haliburton come from his time in the Canadian Forces Artists Program, which allows artists to capture the lives of soldiers.
The images aren’t always flattering or heroic in a traditional sense, which Waters said was part of being honest.
As an artist, Waters was an outsider, but as a former soldier, he has an insider’s eye.
His work reflects that tug of war between a participant and an observer.
His version of a memorial, for example, defies civilian sensibilities of how to honour a lost colleague.
Rather than paint a friend’s face, or construct a monument, Waters painted an image of tracer fire at night.
“When I was in Alberta … we went on an overnight live fire attack,” he explains.
“The person who was in charge of one of the sections that this image comes from was the sole fatality on the recent training mission.” The painting, a shot of orange in a field of darkness, looks abstract to the average viewer.
To a soldier, it is instantly recognizable.
“A lot of people would be puzzled by it,” Waters says. “If you’ve ever been on a live fire at night, or a battle at night, you’ll instantly know what it is. If not, it’s fairly ambiguous.”
Waters is also involved in an anthology called Embedded on the Home Front: Where Military and Civilian Lives Converge, which he will read from during a reception at the Rails End Gallery Oct. 20 at 2 p.m.
Copies of the book will be available to purchase. Seldom Seen: Traces of a War will be at the gallery at 23 York Street in Haliburton until Jan. 12.