Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

29.10.14

Our Project Manager, Léonie, took a day trip to London and found more than just a dramatic scene at the Tower of London.

Having heard about the Poppies at the Tower of London and with a background in both theatre design and ceramics I must admit that it was the team behind the installation that initially piqued my interest. 

The ceramic artist Paul Cummins and the theatre designer Tom Piper collaborated to design and create an installation of over 880,000 poppies in the moat, one handmade poppy to represent each of the allied dead from the First World War. Given my personal experience in both fields, I knew that the construction and installation would be a massive undertaking and was curious to see how the poppies would be displayed in one of London’s most iconic venues.

Arriving after several hours traipsing around Tate Modern, thinking we would miss the crowds, we arrived at 4.50pm having walked across Tower Bridge. By approaching from what is technically the back, you see fine swathes of the poppies in the narrowest part of the moat and can see each individual poppy clearly. As a piece of art in their own right, you can see the subtle differences between each one and can appreciate each one is as individual as the people they represented. Walking round to the main entrance, the ocean of poppies expands and rises up in a wave as if to wash over the bridge into the Tower.

At 4.55pm each day the Last Post sounds and nominated names from the Roll of Honour are read out, which explained the crowds we expected to avoid.  Given it was a Friday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people, tourists and Londoners on their way from work or meetings, which stopped to take a moment to remember. The dress uniforms of the Yeoman Warder and Airforce bugler added to the gravitas of the occasion and with the poppies pouring from the window in the Tower behind, it was a stark reminder of the sheer volume of people that lost their lives as a result of the conflict.

While I had expected to see a beautiful display, I had not expected to find both the installation and the reactions of the crowd so moving. It is a stunning piece of artwork but is heavily rooted in our not too distant history. As Remembrance Sunday approaches and the team of volunteers plant the last few poppies, I would highly recommend a visit to view the installation. The team will start to deconstruct the piece from the 10th November, with individual poppies being sold. This is an example of public art at its best, collaborative, open to all and it prompts a dialogue with the audience to encourage us to not only remember but reflect on lessons from the past.