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ID number:  BIRRC-L0123
Institution:  Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection:  University Loans Collection
Artist / Maker:  Rowan, David
Title / Object name:  Truth is a Difficult Concept
Object type:  Photographic Print
Date made:  2015

Framed C-Type Photographic Print of white text, 'Truth is a Difficult Concept', on black background. Formed part of Phantom Walls Exhibition.16 October 2015 - 17 January 2016.

Notes:  This image responds to Lord Hannay’s career as a diplomat and specifically his role as Great British ambassador to the United Nations during the Gulf War of 1990. The work is part of a set of two, along with L0122 'Matrix Churchill Machine Parts'. They are inspired by the incredible revelations following the judicial enquiry into the war conducted by Sir Richard Scott, then a Lord Justice of Appeal, and the implications that followed for West Midlands manufacturer Matrix Churchill and the British government of the 1990s. Coventry-based Matrix Churchill was implicated in supplying materials that could be used to make weapons. During the Scott Enquiry in 1993, Ian McDonald, then Ministry of Defence Official with responsibility for monitoring arms sales, during questioning, responded ‘The truth is a very difficult concept’. This statement might be applied to many other perceived ‘truths’ in history depicted through story, painting or photograph.

Created in response to Portrait of Lord Hannay by Tom Phillips (b. 1937), Oil on canvas, 2006.

This work forms part of the Phantom Walls series. Phantom Walls was commissioned in 2015 when a series of Vice Chancellor’s portraits from the Great Hall and Aston Webb corridor were temporarily removed from display for an exhibition, Terms of Engagement, at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Filling the temporarily vacated spaces, artist David Rowan created a series of works inspired by the absent paintings.

Phantom Walls is the title of a book written in 1929 by Sir Oliver Lodge, who was the University’s first Principal. His book explored the possibility of an afterlife, that of an alternative reality beyond death. Rowan takes this as his starting point. His alternative portraits use photography, video and sculpture to create phantom versions of the originals. In some, he brings to life the personal iconography and relationships of the sitters. In others their legacy and wider social impact is explored. Some pieces endow inanimate objects with the focus usually reserved for the human subject. All provide a fascinating alternative perspective on these key contributors to the University’s history.

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