Established in 1907, the all-female First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) provided both medical and intelligence services during the World Wars. The ground-breaking group are the subject of a new work by Katrina Palmer, commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the WWI centenary. The independent charity – now known as the Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps – continues to offer aid in civil and military emergencies, including the terrorist attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, and the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
Palmer’s The Coffin Jump (2018), opening at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, acknowledges these pioneering women, combining sculpture, soundtrack and performance to symbolise the challenges and freedoms of women in wartime. The work, which makes an intervention into the historic park, comprises an inscribed structure above a trench. Referencing FANY’s initial battle against prejudice, phrases such as “woman saves man” and “nothing special happened” are written on the horse jump, reflecting on the everyday heroism of the group during WWI whilst highlighting personal stories from sources such as the 1918 diaries of member Muriel Thompson.
Occasionally activated by a horse and local rider, The Coffin Jump acts as a symbol of independence, mobility and action whilst communicating notions of mortality. The structure of the trench represents the site’s history, whilst the performance engages with ideas of emancipation. The work poignantly reflects on a loss of life – both in battle and at home – as the piece remembers the suffragette Emily Davison, who stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.
The commission fits in to Palmer’s wider practice, which positions words as a form of sculpture. Endowing objects with wider meaning through contextualised narratives, the artist invites the reader or listener to embody these accounts through the power of imagination. Published stories, live readings and audio recordings make up her diverse oeuvre, which often engages with ideas of history and gender inequality.
Until 16 June 2019. Find out more here.
1. Katrina Palmer, The Coffin Jump, 2018, Courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park and 14-18 NOW, Photo Danny Lawson/PA Wire