MICHAEL KEIGHERY: “THE DEAD MAN’S PENNY”
"The Dead Man's Penny" is an exhibition and installation which commemorates the death of his Great Uncle, Frank Keighery, on Lone Pine in 1915. His family (and the families of other British soldiers who died) received one of the 1.35 million Memorial Plaques issued. They quickly became ironically known as "The Dead Man's Penny". The plaques were inscribed with the words "He died for Freedom and Honour".
This exhibition will be an installation of 8,709 squeezed and fired "knuckles" of clay which is the number of Australian soldiers killed on Gallipoli in 1915 and they represent the historic and contemporary feelings of grief, frustration, futility and anger surrounding that campaign.
This project centres on Keighery’s Great Uncle's diary which was taken from his body on Gallipoli in 1915. The diary is written in Pittman shorthand (Frank was a reporter/printer from Lang Lang, Victoria) and Keighery found a good number of volunteer translators to work on translating the small diary which is housed in the War Memorial. This was, probably naturally, a difficult task given the individuality of handwriting, military jargon and colloquialisms. One of the volunteers (who Keighery only knows via the internet) even visited Frank Keighery's grave at Lone Pine recently and left a postcard to Frank and a handmade wreath!
Frank Keighery wrote poetry (in English) to pass the quiet times and other soldiers made "trench art" from the military detritus such as artillery shell casings etc that were the by-product of the first industrialized war. These objects often became domestic, sentimental and indeed sanitized reminders of familial loss. Keighery extensively uses the stylized forms of artillery shells in order to explore this “anomaly”.
For Keighery, the elusive nature of the meaning of the Diary and The Dead Man’s Penny serves also as a metaphor for how we continue to understand as well as misunderstand the Gallipoli Campaign and indeed all of “The Great War”.
Finally, it gives the artist great pleasure to acknowledge the wonderful assistance of the Canberra Potters’ Society, the Ceramic Workshop at the ANU and Walker Ceramics for enabling him to undertake this project.
MICHAEL KEIGHERY: “THE DEAD MAN’S PENNY