The impossibility of leaving an indelible mark in a history as long and dense as that of Eton is symbolic of history overall. We draw in pencil onto the walls of our time and hope that future generations may still decipher the message.
'Old School' is a solo exhibition of new photographic and sculptural work made by Liane Lang while an artist in residence at Eton College in 2014. Lang was the first female artist to be awarded the James McLaren residency at Eton College and follows in the footsteps of other luminaries such as Hughie O’Donoghue RA and Norman Ackroyd CBE RA.
In the artist’s own words, “Eton was unique to me for having been put to the same use in the same place for more than 500 years, a layering of grand political histories and small personal stories that felt too complex to unpick. The boys who study there also seemed aware of the weight of this history, and the desire to make a mark is inherent in many small acts -- none more so than the propensity to carve one’s name into the walls and benches of the school, a tradition dating back centuries and leading to a palimpsest of inscriptions.”
These marks were the catalyst for the sculptural works on display in this exhibition, bronze resin casts of the actual wooden beams and benches containing five centuries of student graffiti. These clandestine acts of vandalism are reminiscent of youth culture today - the recurrent action of attempting to stand out, make a mark and be remembered, but the title of the show, Old School, harkens back to an earlier era.
In her research, Lang was especially struck by the Eton College Chapel and its original paintings depicting miracles of the Virgin Mary that were whitewashed over during the Reformation in 1560. Using charcoal, chalk, pigments and inks to overpaint photographs of the Chapel, Lang transformed the emotive interior of the Chapel into a space of the imagination, making references to the bomb which pulverized the great stained glass window and the fires of many wars which left a mark there, including the iconoclastic battles of the Reformation that resulted in empty arches where once stood statues and bare stone walls where once hung paintings telling a popular medieval story about a mythical Empress. The existing chapel paintings still maintain the medieval closeness to King Henry’s family patrons, the female saints St Winifred, St Catherine and St Elizabeth, adding a surprising element of feminine presence to this most masculine of institutions.