November 11, 2014

Sea-ing Red

Paul Cummins' installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London features the "Weeping Window" front and center 
             What I am about to introduce doesn’t really need much of a prelude, because it really is poignant enough to stand on its own. Today marks Remembrance Day, in honor of November 11th 1918, when at 11 a.m., World War I came to its end.

The Tower of London's 16-acre moat filled with poppies
              In the weeks leading up to today, London has been awash with the famous red remembrance poppy. The poppy is used to commemorate soldiers who have died at war. People pin paper or metal versions of the flower on their coats, while buses and trains opt for poppy decals. It’s a heartwarming sight to witness, especially in such a big city, when everyone unites under the same cause.

Lest we forget
             There can be no sight more moving, however, than the Tower of London installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. 100 years after World War I, the installation is comprised of 888,246 ceramic poppies created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins. Each poppy represents one death in the British or Commonwealth forces in World War I. A staggering figure on its own, it is even more alarming when visually represented.

All of the 888,246 ceramic poppies were handmade, each one taking three days to complete
             Stage designer Tom Piper was responsible for the setting, with the end result producing an undulating effect. The poppies are a sea of red, creating a very uncanny and very unsettling resemblance to blood. The poppies fill the Tower of London’s 16-acre moat and pour out of what is called the “Weeping Window” in deliberate artistic dexterity. 

Stage designer Tom Piper was responsible for giving the poppies their wavelike effect, producing what resembles a sea of blood
             Over 200 volunteers a day planted 50 poppies per square meter and the turnout amassed almost 5 million visitors. The handmade poppies (which took three days each to make) were made available to purchase by the public and sold out, with 10 percent of proceeds and all net proceeds shared equally amongst six service charities. Buyers will then be sent their poppies by January 2015.

The "Wave" of poppies 
             The installation has been so popular that a public campaign wanted to make the display permanent, but 1,000 volunteers will gather tomorrow (November the 12th) to start dismantling and cleaning the poppies. However, you will still be able to see two sections, the "Wave" of poppies and the "Weeping Window," at the Tower of London until the end of November. The "Wave" and the "Weeping Window" will then be transported across England to different museums until they settle in their final resting place at the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester in 2018. 

My dad, a retired U.S. Army veteran who served for 25 years, looking out over the poppies
             We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, just like the above photograph of my dad. It was really special to be able to experience the installation with my parents while they were visiting me in London over the weekend. The "Army brat," military lifestyle has always been a pervasive factor for me and I cannot express enough how grateful I am for those who are currently serving or who have previously served in the armed forces.

The extreme contrast of new and old is evident as the Tower of London is pictured with the Gherkin in the background
             I hope that the photographs of my visit to the installation speak for themselves. I was rendered speechless by the vast scope of the project and I’m sure you will be too. Its transitory nature acts as a reminder that life is exactly that: transient, impermanent, fleeting. Each one of those 888,246 men died for us, so we owe it to them to well and truly live. 

             The idea to fill the Tower of London’s moat with poppies came to Cummins after discovering a poem written by an unknown soldier. Sent home before the soldier's death, the poem is also how the installation received its name: 

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.

As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead
My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.
It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell. to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more
I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

The view of City Hall and the Shard in all of their glistening modernity can be seen opposite the historic Tower of London

             To donate to the Poppy Appeal, which is devoted to raising money to help servicemen and women, veterans, and their families, get involved here. If you’re interested in learning about how the poppies were made, read all about the process here. Cummins actually lost one of his fingers in an industrial roller while working on the poppies!

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