The Aims of Life Are the Best Defence Against Death
Below Paul Coldwell discusses his commission by the British Art Medal Society.
“My work over a number of years has been concerned with themes of journey and identity. My work for the Freud Museum focussed on Freud’s emigration to London, and I have made a body of work in response to Martin Bell’s final radio report from Bosnia for the BBC. I have been particularly moved by the way that conflicts impact on the individual, creating upheaval and displacement. In making this medal, I wanted to use the two sides to suggest this conflict: good/bad, life/death.
I was reading Primo Levi’s book, The drowned and the saved, which so powerfully tries to come to terms with the tragedy of the holocaust. One particular phrase from this book, ‘The aims of life are the best defence against death’, seemed to encapsulate the feelings that I was trying to realise. It seemed to indicate a certain basic practical strength, an instinct to survive that I wanted my medal to celebrate.
My medal juxtaposes on one face the image of a skeletal plane, a dark reminder of menace, with that of a house, which I felt indicated a sense of place, protection and life, indeed what constitutes a home. Around the edge is the text from Primo Levi which indicates the choice we must make. In making the medal, I brought together my practice as both a sculptor and printmaker and as an artist who uses computers as a creative tool. The images for the medal were worked on the computer and pixilated to suggest news photographs. A deeply etched plate was then made and wax cast from it. I then re-angled the house and plane throwing them into bas relief.”