Tower of London Poppy Art Installation / Landscape Architecture

Here is the text of the above video reviews of Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s Blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.
The poppy installation at the Tower of London is by Paul Cummins, a ceramic artist, with help from Tom Piper, a stage designer. Its name comes from a Derbyshire man who died in Flanders. He wrote of The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread. There are eight hundred and eight-eight thousand two hundred and forty six poppies: for each British and Colonial death in the First World War.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the House of Commons it was a stunning display, and extremely poignant.
The Washington Post described the installation as ‘a must-see on the tourist trail.
CNN John McCrae’s famous poem, which launched the poppy metaphor: In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place.
The Professor of the History of War at King’s College, observed that : Since the war is still generally misunderstood, such popular interest is encouraging, and the more people who have an opportunity to visit the poppies the better.
The Mayor of London called for the installation to be kept in place a bit longer. A spokesperson from the Historic Royal Palaces responded that The transience of the installation is key to the artistic concept, with the dispersal of the poppies into hundreds of thousands of homes marking the final phase of this evolving installation’.
The actress, Sheila Hancock, suggested that the poppies should be mown down by a tank to commemorate the horror of war.
Jonathan Jones, an art critic with The Guardian, also wanted more horror. He argued that In spite of the mention of blood in its title, this is a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial,
Robert Hardman, for the Daily Mail, responded by calling him a Sneering Left-wing art critic.
So what do I think? Well, as an art installation, it’s hard to fault. As a war memorial, one might think it lacks pathos. But the 1-for-1 symbolism and the fact that the poppies are frozen in time save it from being floral bedding.
For pure pathos a moat-filling tank of red liquid, inspired by Richard Wilson’s installation at the Saatchi Gallery, would have been more telling – and could have evolved into the water-filled moat the Tower needs. But I doubt if this would have raised any money for soldiers’ charities – as the poppies most certainly have done.

6 thoughts on “Tower of London Poppy Art Installation / Landscape Architecture

  1. Christine

    Without the poppies it might have been too easy to be reminded of the bloody history of the tower instead of remebering the sacrifice of soldiers during the war.
    The aesthetic quality of the poppies at least reminds us that the virtues of courage and patriotism are beautiful. Highly developed diplomatic skills are the best defence against differences degenerating into war. How would you symbolise the good of diplomacy?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The word diplomacy immediately makes me think of the account of a diplomat as ‘a good man sent abroad to lie for his country’, so I had better remember Kipling too ‘If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied’. Since the Kipling quote is so good (he was stricken with grief at the loss of his son) I am tempted to remember the gaiety of poppies as symbolizing the way in which the ‘fathers’ romanticized the prospect of going war. Maybe we could extend this to symbolizing diplomacy: the diplomats and generals who went to war in 1914 had no conception of how terrible it was going to be. They were ‘gentlemen’ and I read an account of the war this summer which pointed to a Canadian and a New Zealander as being the best allied generals of the war: they were both ‘men of the people’ rather than rosy-eyed gentlemen who thought poppies a good symbol with which to remember the war.

  2. Christine

    Condoleezza Rice used an agricultural analogy to describe the art of diplomacy. [ ]

    A school dedicated to diplomacy seems like a good idea.
    [ ] and
    [ ]

    A course on the history of diplomacy would seem to be essential. [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I doubt if a single British diplomat has gone abroad without having read 1066 And All That. They have probably read Parkinson’s Law too – and I wish they had heeded his wisdom.

  3. Christine

    Here is one account of diplomatic efforts just prior to the 1st World War:

    “In the period just before 1914, when most foreign services were not equipped to handle commercial matters, the British Board of Trade – the then Ministry of Commerce – asked the Foreign Office to provide information about arms manufacture in Imperial Russia. The Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, replied to this enquiry that he had not been sent as His Majesty’s Ambassador to the Russian Court to do arithmetical computations for the Board of Trade.”

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Wonderful. Sir George Buchanan belonged to the generation which was born to rule.
      I hope I do not do him an injustice but my recollection is that Sir Edward Grey, Britain’s foreign secretary in 1914, had a marked aversion to being abroad. I wish he had not let Britain slip into the Great War.


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