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 www.completehero.com. 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 completehero.com 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

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