Zach Phillips studied History and Design at Hampshire College in Amherst Massachusetts. His studies focused on the late 19th and early 20th-century European history through the First World War period. His art practice combines both interests of primary source research and storytelling, within the book form. In working with archival images, which are then manipulated, Zach is interested in presenting the hyper-real. Images are doubled or tripled within their own frame, amplifying the subject, and forcing a viewer to look twice. In looking for the manipulation the viewer sees faces, gesture, and emotion. In a roundabout way, the viewer is brought through a close looking exercise. These interventions within the image seek to capture an audience and force them to reconcile their understandings of history, an objective truth, and the humanity of those within the archive.
The 20th century since its very beginning has been characterized by excess. With the creation and rise of Taylorism in the decades before the turn of the century, industrial production expanded beyond imagination. A new world was to be envisioned, one of multitudes. An era scored by the slow methodical rhythms of the assembly line.
Then the seemingly inevitable war.
“The war of 1914 was ignorant of the realities; it was still serving a delusion, the dream of a better world, a world that would be just and peaceful. And only delusion, not knowledge, bring happiness. That was why the victims went to the slaughter drunk and rejoicing, crowned with flowers and wearing oak leaves on their helmets, while the streets echoed with cheering and blazed with light, as if it was a festival.”
How do you find humanity in death tolls which exist in the millions, tens of millions? Let alone those who were ground to ash a century ago. There can be little solidarity for victims remembered as statistics, as numbers within larger numbers.
How then to feel what has happened, not just understand an abstract cost?
The people you will see, lived, and dreamed as you do. Their hopes for the future, their concerns for the present died with them. Their world, the world of yesterday, is no more. It exists only in fragments, on film, in photographs, diaries, letters, posters, newspapers, songs, and sayings. Which now exist isolated incidents, divorced from their moment. A century later, what has survived remains cataloged, organized, and stored within archives large and small.
There are countless stories (aphoristic or otherwise) which could not be transcribed or told here, reams of statistics which could not be organized, thousands of moments undocumented and lost to this present moment. The information which can be found here is are small fragments of a larger story. Excerpts from diaries, letters, official documents, retroactive examinations, poetry, and larger histories; all fragments assembled here to show, in part, a personal examination of the First World War.
What follows is an attempt to make sense of it all.
What follows is far from complete.
What follows is all true.
To view more of Zach’s work please visit his website.