The hero outside

A new installation challenges our preconceptions concerning heroism, not least because of its location on the walls of The Guards Chapel, spiritual home of the Household Division of the British Army

A new installation challenges our preconceptions concerning heroism, not least because of its location on the walls of The Guards Chapel, spiritual home of the Household Division of the British Army

With British servicemen losing their lives daily in Afghanistan and yesterday’s Remembrance Day celebrations, the word ‘hero’ has been prominent in press and public debate of late. But what does it mean to be a hero today?

Complete Hero, a projection-based artwork by Martin Firrell, explores the subject through text and moving image. A series of films are projected on two sides of the Chapel, with sound accessible through headphones provided at the site.

Firrell has been Public Artist in Residence with the Household Division throughout 2009. To make the piece he conducted interviews with men and women of the Household Division, and wider Army, with direct experience of active service including Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry VC.

But the idea of heroism is also discussed in its wider sense, with actor Nathan Fillion speaking of male heroes in popular culture, writers Howard Jacobson and Adam Nicolson speaking of the hero in literature, philosopher A C Grayling, evolutionary geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford, and writer and speaker April Ashley, one of the first people to undergo a sex change operation.

“I wanted to make a piece of work that looked at all kinds of heroism, not just the usual derring-do of white square jawed men,” says Firrell. “But I thought it would be interesting to start with a white, square-jawed man and Nathan Fillion (of Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity fame) agreed to come and take part – he flew in from Hollywood and kicked it all off and gave it some life on the internet at I called the work Complete Hero because I thought if you looked at different kinds of people in different contexts in different walks of life, you could do a 360 degree circle around the concept and from that the ‘completeness’ of the title would derive.”

Of working with the Army, Firrell notes that they are “the only commissioners who have not censored me at all – Tate Britain, the National Gallery, St Paul’s, Royal Opera all asked me to remove something, but the Army took it all – and they did it with the full understanding and knowledge of what it meant to take it all.”

Firrell also invited members of the public to contribute their own views and ideas via the project blog at to help inform the final form of the projected work.

Complete Hero is at The Guards Chapel, Birdcage Walk, Wellington Barracks, London SW1, from 5pm to 9pm, tonight and tomorrow night (November 10) only

  • Siobhan Prigent

    These projections are well worth the trip the The Guards Chapel. Thought provoking, touching and at times hilarious, Martin Firrell has done another incredible job of bringing art, politics and even religion, together beautifully once again.

  • daniel Robert Prieto

    The only good sign is the first one

  • Carole Davis

    Hats off to the Household Division for allowing this unusual installation. Certainly not what one would have expected – that took courage – but then that’s what its all about isn’t it?

  • William Maughan

    I think this is a really good project to support.
    It’s all about what it is to be human, it’s about being truly present, and it’s about being properly engaged with the world.
    If you look around yourself and see what’s going on in the world, at this time, you realise the project is tremendously relevant and timely.

  • simple, powerful

  • the last one brings tears to eyes. thanks, great work.

  • I like this project. It’s simple and it takes a chance and I can’t think of a better time for it’s installation than now, although I do wish it was on over the weekend so I could come and see it in person.

  • Jane0904

    I was moved, even standing in the rain on Friday night, watching the images and hearing the words. Some of it puts my own life into perspective, and other parts made me think about things in a different way. I too was originally surprised at the venue, but it worked. Heroism isn’t about war, about armies – it’s a much more personal thing. If you think you’re a hero, you’re probably not, because true heroism isn’t calculated.

  • Emma

    This looks very similar to this…

  • Karl

    No… it doesn’t

  • Nguyen Huu Giao

    from the other side of the Channel

    There is absolutely no other alternative :
    I do want to become a hero.

    France-Aimée Nguyen Huu Giao

  • bailey

    Absolutely profound. I wish I could have been there! Martin is incredibly talented.

  • Kcat10

    God bless you, Martin Firrell, for your heroic artwork of beauty, courage, and power. Thank you for using the magnificently beautiful Nathan Fillion. He is a splendid representative of all things heroic, on the screen and in real life.

    I look forward to all of your brilliant work to come, Martin!

    With gratitude,


  • Brandy

    Gorgeous, well done, thought provoking…

  • Merrie White

    Thanks to all who made this work of art possible. Mostly thanks go to Martin, who I must admit – has become a true inspiration to me the longer I can be part of his world. The inclusion of Nathan Fillion is what drew me to the project, but Martin’s genius is what kept me coming back for more. I only wish that I could have been there physically, but my heart and my soul was with all those who were there to see this come to life.

  • congrats once again on a masterpiece MR Firrell.
    I saw the work online as I was South of the Equator for the winter…..look forward to seeing more when I return in the summer

  • Cindy

    Well done.

  • Helen

    I found it very moving and thought-provoking. Broad in its ambition but compelling in its detail.
    Beautifully shot and art directed.

  • Don Boyd

    Complete Hero by Martin Firrrell is an inspirational triumph in every way. It provokes. It is poetic. It is moving and beautiful. It is an extraordinary technical feat. It addresses fundamental aspects of our human condition. And it is presented with such startling modesty and simplicity.The fact that it exists at The Guards Chapel, yards away from the Queen’s London home, makes the entire venture even more significant, and strangely devoid of any of the cynical irony it could have evoked. How rare that an artist should make something which forces us to think, and encourages us to stop and think, to question why we behave the way we do. And in such an apt environment. Martin and his amazing erudite and articulate collaborators( including members of the Household Cavalry who had the gumption to commission this work) moved us to challenge how we go about our lives and how we treat others.
    I was walking away in the dark dank cold and the wind and the rain on Friday and three taxi drivers stopped to take in the installation. Each driver spent minutes immediately engaged in the images on the side of the Guards Chapel; and of course a straggle of passers by stopped too, and were standing in the rain to absorb the words and images. Brilliant.

  • It’s hard to describe how moving it was to watch this installation “live” with the words echoing in the headphones and the deep musical accompaniment – isolated, and yet joined in a community of “heroes” – human beings doing their best to live a true, decent, honest life in whatever circumstances that entails for them.

    Although Martin said that media exposure was not that important, I do wish more people had been aware of this incredibly important work, particularly around the particularly poignant time of Remembrance Day.

    It was a privilege to be there.

  • Roger

    A very profound exhibition – congratulations Martin for asking us to go behind the meaning of a word which is often used in a shallow manner.

  • Jaime Baker

    In these media controlled days of unjustified hyperbole, it is essential that we are reminded of what is really important. Martin never preaches or demands a reaction, he merely gives us the evidence and allows us to reach our own conclusions, but it is in the execution and delivery of that evidence that lies his genius.

  • tania

    I found Complete Hero moving, thought-provoking, timely, and yes, brave.
    In all, it is a very worthwhile piece of work. I am very glad I got to see it.

    Thanks for the experience, Martin! I”ll be looking out for your next work.

  • Shocked that the broader media seem to have missed this incredible work. Why would that be?

  • hilde

    Impressive and inspiring!!

  • Emily Whitfield-Wicks

    Be beautiful
    Be kind
    Be brave
    Life is like a book and we are the authors.

    Positive words like this always come to mind when I think of complete hero. Martin Firrrell is ingenious in the way he has inspired the world with his powerful heroic Artwork. It goes to show how stunning images and words marry together so well, catching our imagination as we roll through waves of time.

    And then there is our on-screen hero Nathan Fillion who is just as much a hero off screen, a hero in the definition of beautiful and kind, who always has the ability to make people laugh and smile. He is an outstanding actor, inspiring and charming person, you did well to choose him to represent Complete Hero.

    Big thank you Martin, it was a great privilege to be there.
    All the very best
    Emily WW

  • Kelly Harker

    You always leave me in awe, Martin. The projections are more beautiful and moving than I could have ever imagined. Congratulations to you and everyone involved.

  • MW

    Very very similar to Jenny Holzer’s installations where she projected poems onto buildings & other spaces:

    She should have some credit here for the influence!

  • Lady Rednallac

    The difference being that Jenny Holzer often projects other people’s text while Martin Firrell always writes his own (and sometimes incorporates material from interviews, more like verbatim theatre than any other visual art technique I have seen before) – to have such original poetry on our capital’s landmark buildings is a real honour. A beautiful evolution from Jenny Holzer to new level of public artistry….

  • That is some crazy advertising.