14-18 Now: how The Cogency helped deliver powerful public art on a national scale

The Cogency scooped the top prize at last year's The Drum Dream Awards (now The Drum Creative Awards)

The Cogency scooped the ‘Dream Award’ at The Drum Dream Awards 2016 (now The Drum Creative Awards) for its work on #WeAreHere a public art performance bringing awareness and modern-day relevance to the Battle of the Somme. Here we take a look at the award-winning campaign.

Background

On 1 July 2016, volunteers took part in a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. ‘We’re here because we’re here’ saw around 1,400 participants dressed in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK. Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed on that day 100 years ago.

The artistic challenge was to engage contemporary Britain with the Battle of the Somme.

Strategy

“I wanted to make a contemporary memorial to make the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one that moved around the UK with an unpredictability in which the participants, by their actions, took the memorial to the public.” explained Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller.

Wearing historically accurate uniforms, representing the 15 regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the battle, the soldiers, recruited from 26 theatres nationwide, did not speak but at points throughout the day would sing the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’ which was sung in the trenches during WW1. They handed out cards to members of the public with a name and regiment of the soldier they represented and, where known, the age of the soldier when he died on 1 July 1916, along with the hashtag #WeAreHere.

The daylong work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the whole of the UK, sites visited included shopping centres, train stations, beaches, car parks and high streets, in a bid to bring an intervention into people’s daily loves where it was least expected.

Created by Deller, along with National Theatre director, Rufus Norris; the UK’s arts program for the First World War centenary 14-18 Now and The Cogency, the event had no advanced publicity so that the soldiers could appear unexpectedly. Social influencers were also recruited to build awareness.

Outcome

From early morning on 1 July 2016 members of the public were so moved by what they had experienced they took to social platforms to express their thoughts with posts shared and commented on across the globe. International news outlets covered the story with the BBC breaking the full story at 6:30pm across TV and digital news networks. At 7pm the theatres and influencers involved shared their stories in a syncronised moment with the #WeAreHere website re-launched with photography and videos created during the day.

“This work by Jeremy Deller is a truly national piece of theatre and is a powerful way to remember the men who went off to fight 100 years ago,” commented Norris. “I hope it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen ties with theatres and communities across the UK.”

Overall, the #WeAreHere hashtag trended online for over 14 hours, exceeding 220m impressions with nearly 100k online posts worldwide. In excess of 100k people also visited the #WeAreHere site with a YouGov poll revealing 63% of the UK population were aware of the campaign.

A total of 2 million people experienced the work live, with 30 million experiencing it via the media. Over two-thirds of those surveyed after the day agreed the work had made the Battle of the Somme more relevant to their lives.

The Drum Creative Awards are currently open for entries, if you want to find out more visit the Creative Awards website.

Gillian West

Gillian West is The Drum’s social media manager and works to ensure The Drum’s content reaches followers across platforms including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram in an engaging, relevant and timely manner. Based in Glasgow, she has been actively involved in building The Drum’s Creative Works brand for over three years now and has interviewed major creative figures including Rankin, Peter Souter, Rosie Arnold, Bob Greenberg and Vicki Maguire. During her time at The Drum she has attended events such as Cannes Lions, the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Art Director’s Club Europe, D&AD and more.

All by Gillian