It’s tempting to look at the uniform sculptures of artist Paddy Hartley’s latest endeavor, Project Facade, and exclaim “that’s hot/haute/oh-so-uber.” It’s easy to enjoy the images on this level and bypass their true meaning. In reality, the true message of this series is much more horrific and visceral; it’s painful to explore, and profound to experience.
Project Facade tells “the personal and surgical stories” of servicemen who sustained deforming injuries during World War One. The site displays the uniform sculptures as components of thoroughly-researched case studies that include the name, face and injury catalogue of each soldier, presenting a sculpture that’s unique for each man’s story. The most detailed case studies belong to Sea. AJ, Fai. W, and Top. V, though all are worth examining. Warning: there are images of facial deformities here that are not for the weak of heart!
Some uniforms are fragmented with blood-red stitching reminiscent of shrapnel wounds, others are inscribed with writing that conjures medical records or letters from loved ones, and many uniforms are complemented by stiff masks that project power and authority while hiding a the personal horror of a face literally erased by war. The project is two-fold: in addition to examining the history of facial/body reconstruction with the aforementioned uniform sculptures, Hartley also investigates modern techniques by creating Bioactive Glass Facial Implant sculptures, comparing today’s technology to the surgical techniques that Sir Harold Gillies pioneered in the early 1900s. The result is a powerful artistic response to the history of facial reconstruction, as experienced both by the patient and as the surgeon.