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John Byrne's original design

John Byrnes original design, using acrylic and gouache on paper for the King’s theatre dome, the title  ‘All the World’s a Stage’ depicts a swirling celestial scene, where a black harlequin carries the sun through the clouds and a flame-haired woman, draped in a star-cloth banner, pushes the moon through the sky.

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International Conscientious Objectors Day is marked around the world each year on May 15th. In July 2011 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that ‘states must respect the right to conscientious objection as part of their obligation to respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion', bringing European law in line with international human rights standards 

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Panel two detail

Photographs of people across the panels generated readings related to family and the impact of war, particularly loss, suffering, love, absence and separation, such as “the fragility of an individual family in a wartime situation”. The photographs led some viewers to reflect on personal experiences and family histories, one viewer responding that the woman and barbed wire reminded them of “someone I knew who was in some kind of internment camp as a child in World War Two”. 

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Panel three detail

Conscientious objectors and their families received white feathers as a symbol of cowardice, so these were included in both triptychs. One viewer particularly interpreted the family photo and feather as “carrying disgrace of white feather, suffering through loss and convictions of others, betrayal of country and church to support them”. Most viewers interpreted the feather as cowardice but there was some aberrant decoding, including “for pigeon carriers at the front line”, “elements of nature”, “symbol of peace and love” and “writing implement”. 

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Panel one detail

140 people were surveyed about their interpretations of ‘The Ties That Bind (II)’. Shared interpretations of the triptych included war/wartime (114 responses), imprisonment (109), suffering (99) and family relationships - some in relation to war (98). 21 viewers clearly interpreted pacifist meanings from the triptych that correlated with the practitioner’s communication intention. The ship predominantly signified war to viewers, but this image was also interpreted as migration. The hands predominantly signified hope and prayer. 

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‘The Ties That Bind (II)’

Although communication intentions for the panels were specific, each image and composition was open to multiple interpretations. Readings of the textiles were inevitably informed by viewers’ personal and cultural experiences, their own memories, histories, and wider social and historical knowledge. Evidence of contextual influence on interpretations of the work also emerged at some sites, with viewers associating the images with local or regional history.

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Digital development: envelope

Key issues in the practice were generating intertextuality between the panels to generate a holistic sense of meaning from the work, and developing intratextuality between signifiers within each panel to generate specific meanings to inform the narrative sequence. Some elements were included to communicate redundantly, such as crossed out British flags (to signify lack of patriotism), with an expectation of shared interpretations from viewers. Others, such as the envelope, were more entropic, to generate subliminal responses and associations. 

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Image of Harriet Bell (wife) with barbed wire

Commutation tests (Barthes, 1967) were an integral part of the design process, identifying the characteristics and differences of individual signifiers within a paradigm or syntagym and defining their significance. Applying this within the textile practice involved changing a visual signifier (e.g. image or colour) and examining if this altered the meaning of the elements it was grouped with. Existing signifiers were also rearranged into new configurations to determine if different meanings were created. 

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