During the last few weeks, through the nation’s media, we have witnessed the most amazing public engagement with an artwork that this country has ever experienced.
The artwork is Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by designer Tom Piper, in collaboration with ceramic artist Paul Cummins. The artwork sees 888,246 individual ceramic crafted poppies (each representing the lives of lost Allied troops in World War One) placed in the moat of The Tower of London to create a moving and thought-provoking installation.
The installation has seen an incredible response, with the public flocking from far and wide to London to see it. As an artist I look on with both envy and admiration at the creative creators, lucky beggars. To gain not only this amount of media coverage, but also the huge public engagement in your artwork is something most artists can only dream of. Speaking of the media, they have been massively influential in raising the profile and popularity of the work. The latter is something that threatened to dent the quality and the intention of the work.
Following Jonathan Jones’ balloon-popping, party-pooping review in The Guardian, we have seen interest in the work gain maximum momentum. But the popularity has at times threatened to overshadow the work, as that popularity suddenly started to try to dictate the intention. In the height of the work’s hysteria, in the run
up to Remembrance Sunday, we saw both the Mayor of London and his Eton buddy, the Prime Minister, rightly praising the work but wrongly calling for its extension past Armistice Day. Wrongly, because in the build up to both significant days more poppies were to be planted, with the intention to result in a crescendo of all 888,246 there for the final hours, before being removed on 12 November. The key and integral part of the installation is its transience. Neither sentiment nor popularity should get in the way of this.
And this is where there has been a slight disappointment for me. Disappointment in the politicians calling for the instillation to stay whilst failing to take time to consider the work, to fully understand its intention.
London has not been alone in its artistic tribute to the fallen of World War One, with Blackpool also creating a moving installation. The team down at the Illuminations department created a piece on the prom near the cenotaph for remembrance of those who died locally in the war. The piece may not have been on the grandeur scale of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red but it was still poignant, and a confronting reminder of those who sacrificed their lives. Also, credit where it is due, with this being an Illuminations tableau it could easily have had a crass, gaudy feel to it but it has every bit as much class and respect as the London tribute.
These last few weeks it has been great to see how the power of art can still create emotive feeling in such a tech obsessed world, on such a mass scale. But I hope in future that the viewing public will consider that although the piece may have a poignant meaning, it is art, and there is intention.
Featured image by Mez Merrill for Wikimedia Commons. Other images by Brendan Bunting.