CANADIGM’s “Souterrain Impressions” Exhibition
First World War carvings come out of the darkness and into the light
04 April – 05 May 2016
[highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]OPEN: Mon-Fri 16h00 – 20h00, Sat-Sun 10h00 – 16h00[/highlight]
4625 Ste-Catherine Street W., Westmount, QC, H3Z 1S4
Imagine it is April 1917. You and your fellow soldiers are holed up 10 metres underground in a cave in northern France, waiting to be called to the surface to join the attack on Vimy Ridge – the first time in history that a Canadian Corps of 100,000 men have fought together as a unified force. It’s dark, cold and damp, an easy place to feel forgotten. A sound of bombardment is somewhere in the distance, but you’re safe, at least for now, and you try to forget that both the French and British armies have failed to dislodge the Germans dug in on the ridge above you. You’ve lost track of how long you’ve been down here, but you pass the time by carving your regiment’s badge into the soft chalk walls of the cave – anything to be remembered, while awaiting your fate…
This is the essence of the Souterrain Impressions Exhibition. Canadian soldiers were billeted in underground caves near Vimy Ridge , concealed for days and sometimes weeks, awaiting orders to attack. CANADIGM has documented more than 230 images created by these Canadian soldiers by using non-invasive 3D laser scanners and high-resolution photography and form part of a cross-Canada exhibition called Souterrain Impressions.
The Souterrain Impressions exhibit is made up of 20 self-standing ‘modules’, each highlighting one carving and the soldier who created it, along with an interactive multimedia kiosk, wall maps, graphic panels depicting the life of a typical Canadian leading up to the First World War, and “touch & feel” display panels that duplicate carvings for a tactile experience. Each module contains one or more of the reproduced images or carvings, protected in an enclosed Lexan display case. Included are photos of the soldiers who created them (wherever possible) and short biographies.
The entire exhibit is presented in French & English and a Braille summary is affixed to the front of the module.
Many of the carvings are of battalion cap badges, however there are also carvings of hearts, names etched into the walls, drawings of farm animals, and even a letterbox used to drop off and pick up letters from home.
Out of the darkness and into the light
CANADIGM is the only organization to thoroughly document these Canadian soldiers and their creative work, without physically disturbing the originals. These images and carvings are under constant threat of being damaged or lost due to weather and almost 100 years of underground conditions.
To accomplish this, CANADIGM used non-invasive 3D laser scanners and high-resolution photography. Selected carvings, representing soldiers from different regions of Canada, have been painstakingly duplicated using 3D printers. Finding information about these selected soldiers was undertaken by a researcher from the Faculty of Social Science at Western University. The gathered material was able to tell us more about their individual lives – such as where they came from, their pre-war occupations, if they were married or single and whether they survived the war. Some of the remaining works that are not reproduced as 3D prints also form part of this exhibition using an interactive multi-media kiosk.
Image on the left shows the original Vimy tunnel wall carving being scanned by a 3D laser 30 metres underground in Vimy, France, the image in the centre is a time-lapse of the area covered by the scanner to illustrate the process, and the image on the right is the final product incorporated into the bilingual display module built by CANDIGM.
What to expect when visiting Souterrain Impressions exhibit at the RMR:
1. Timeline Corridor: The Souterrain Impressions exhibition is presented by the RMR Museum, which resides in an operational military armoury that is home to two units from the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve: The Royal Montreal Regiment and the 34th Signals Regiment.
As visitors approach the exhibit, they will pass through a “Timeline “Corridor” with panels chronologically leading to the feature cave area include:
- Visuals of Canada before World War One, showing various walks of life
- Visuals of military training overseas
- Visuals of the battle front, including trenches, prisoners, and victory scenes
- Visuals of life returning to normal after the war
- “Did You Know?” panel with a list of facts about Canada in World War One
2. Visiting the ‘Cave’ This is the main feature and visitors will get a sense of scale of the cave from large photographic reproductions of cave wall segments.
- Visitors can wander through the arrangement of modules at their own pace, randomly browsing the pieces on display
- After viewing the modules with carvings by ‘known’ soldiers, visitors will encounter modules featuring unsigned, but distinctly Canadian carvings created by ‘unknown’ soldiers. These include a heart carved for a loved one and a large battalion badge with a maple leaf image.
- A large schematic pop-up display panel details the actual floorplan of the cave, giving a sense of size and the complexity of carving locations on the walls. The viewer can also learn some basic military map-reading skills.
3. On the Way Out: Moving on from the Cave, visitors will have the option to enter the interactive section of the exhibition. Here they can:
- Touch and feel three selected actual reproductions of some of the featured carvings (ideal for the sight-impaired)
- Search for soldiers’ names from our touch-screen interactive kiosk, containing a confirmed list of more than 200 names from the caves (information includes their carvings, military records and biographies where possible)
- View artefacts from the RMR Museum’s First World War collection.
- Visit the RMR Museum to learn more about the First World War, as well as the evolution of Canadian military operations over the past century, visiting the displays on the Second World War, the Cold War, Peacekeeping, and recent combat operations in Afghanistan.