The Coffin Jump is an intervention in the historic deer park at YSP, comprising an inscribed fence above a trench that combines sculpture, soundtrack and performance to symbolise the new freedoms that were afforded to women in the First World War.

The piece highlights the story of the Fany, who served in the battlefields of France in the First World War and was co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, which includes the Poppies Tour and the We’re Here Because We’re Here project, which saw actors dressed as soldiers appear in locations across the UK and which reached an audience of 30m globally, through various channels.

Sue Chadwick, riding Rebus, jumps over The Coffin Jump at YSP. Photograph by Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Founded in 1907 by Captain Edward Baker, the Fany originally rode horseback to the rescue of fallen men in the battlefield. Although by the time of the First World War they were driving motorised ambulances and, shunned by the British Army, Lieutenants Grace McDougall and Lillian Franklin led a team of women who drove ambulances as well as ran hospitals and casualty clearing stations for the Belgian and French Armies.

Last year the Fanys were deployed following the terrorist attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, and the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. Fany volunteers provided 1,835 hours of support over a period of just over three months, assisting a wide range of organisations including the City of London Police.

The YSP’s open air exhibitions regularly feature up to 80 sculptures and installations. Other major works recently unveiled include Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads. The YSP has also recently completed the construction of a new £3.8m visitor centre, which will open in the summer and offer a new restaurant, shop, public foyer and gallery space. It says the visitor centre will enhance the visitor experience while also building capacity for the park, which attracts 500,000 visitors annually and support its long-term financial stability.

The new visitor centre at YSP, which will open this summer. Photograph courtesy of YSP. © Jonty Wilde

Helen Pheby, Senior Curator at YSP said the The Coffin Jump is a really important commission and because it is experiential she believes visitors will connect more strongly to the bravery of the Fany and gain even more understanding of the changing role of women at the time and the effects of warfare.

“This is Katrina’s first major work for the open air and YSP is one of the very few places in the world that could give a home to such an ambitious project,” she says. “YSP is the perfect venue for this work, given its long association with horses including the stable block designed by George Basevi in the 18th century, with space for 70 horses. The sound of the rider’s hooves across this historic landscape is an echo from centuries past.”

Palmer also makes reference to the Fany’s battle against prejudice through words drawn from sources including the diaries of Fany member Muriel Thompson. “Through research into the Fany archives and drawing on her own practice including text and sound, Katrina’s work is multi-layered and with great integrity. The structure itself is a coffin horse jump, built by a local expert who – coincidentally – constructed jumps for the Bretton Horse trials in the 1990s.”

Katrina Palmer at the unveiling of her work The Coffin Jump. Photograph Courtesy of YSP and 14-18 NOW. Photograph © Danny Lawson

The work will occasionally be activated by a horse and local rider who will gallop across the park and make the jump. This say the YSP team is “A symbol of independent mobility and action, capturing the emergence of female emancipation, the galloping horse also echoes the death of Emily Davison who famously stepped in front of the King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.”

Visitors will also be drawn to hand-painted phrases on the horse jump such as ‘woman saves man’ and ‘nothing special happened’ highlight the everyday heroism of women during the First World War, capturing the sense that the Fanys were doing their job and getting on with what had to be done in a practical manner.

There is also a related poster sign, which is an iconic public safety notice from the First World War, which the artist has changed to suggest that the threat is not Germans but women. Tannoys in nearby trees play ‘The Enchantress’ sung by Clara Butt, who performed at the 1911 Festival of Empire, where the Fany also gave demonstrations of horse-back rescues. When the music plays it announces that a horse and rider are in the vicinity. It pauses when they are ready to take the jump, then recommences once the hurdle is cleared and the rider in the distance.

The Fany was officially renamed the Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps in 1999, after being given permission by Anne, Princess Royal to use her title and Her Royal Highness was on hand to officially unveil The Coffin Jump at the weekend. The Fany are the longest established uniformed ‘military’ voluntary organisation for women in the world and the only all-women unit left in the UK.

Leap of Faith

Running alongside the artwork is Leap of Faith, an engagement project inspired by The Coffin Jump exploring ways in which interaction between horses, women and creative expression benefits wellbeing. As a pioneering associated outreach project Leap of Faith is also offering equine assisted therapy to women who have experienced traumatic life events.

“This is an important project for YSP, both in terms of the anticipated impact on the participants, and in terms of expanding the depth and scope of our wellbeing programme,” says Rachel Massey, Arts and Wellbeing Coordinator at YSP. “The project comes at an important time in the national arts and health movement as health and social care providers are working more closely with the arts to enhance people’s lives.”

YSP is working with experts from the arts, health and social care sectors, to learn and share from each other’s different perspectives, as well as participants from two women’s centres, Ashiana and WomenCentre.

The Coffin Jump is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and YSP, made possible with Art Fund support.

The Coffin Jump runs until 16 Jun 2019.

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