Inara reviews the latest exhibit by Storm Septimus:
Invictus (Latin: “unconquerable“) is the name of the full region installation by Storm Septimus, which is now open through until the end of 2016. It is a stunning visual interpretation of William Ernest Henley’s famous 1875 poem of the same name.
The poem, untitled at the time of its writing (editor Arthur Quiller-Couch added the title when including it in The Oxford Book of English Verse in 1900), came at a time when Henley was facing severe challenges. Diagnosed at an early age with tuberculosis of the bone, he had lost half his left leg to the disease in 1869, when he was just 20. Rather than accept the loss of his right leg as well, he spent three years hospitalized between 1873 and 1875 while noted surgeon Joseph Lister (ultimately successfully) fought to save the limb, and it was at the time of these multiple surgeries that Henley wrote his poem.
It is this determination of the human will to overcome adversity, no matter how dark, even with the portal of death awaiting, which forms the central theme of the poem. It takes the reader on a journey through life’s hardship, enduring the battering of circumstance and chance, to the recognition that whatever circumstance we face, we alone determine our fate. Dark through the initial three stanzas, the poem emerges in an affirmation of spiritual fortitude; a triumphant proclamation of self-will over fate, and our ability to lay claim to our time on Earth.
It’s a powerful message, and one evocatively presented within the installation, which offers a visual journey through the poem. This begins on the upper floor of a tower. Notes on navigation are presented on a scroll, and touching it will deliver them in note card form – recommended lest you find yourself forgetting directions.
To descend the tower is to descend into the black pit of the poem’s first stanza, which awaits at the lowest level. Outside, the journey continues, winding down a mountain, passing the remaining stanzas along the way, their surroundings reflecting and interpreting each in turn through metaphor and symbolism.Any attempt to describe this journey is meaningless; it is something which is to be experienced first-hand. There is marvelously expressive symbolism to be found throughout; not only of the poem itself, but also the broader themes encompassed by its verses. Some of this is obvious, such as the giant hands grasping chain reins of great stallions, encapsulating the idea of taking control of one’s fate, reflecting the exultant final two lines of the poem.