Last week I went to see Tom Piper speak at the V&A Museum. Tom is a British theatre designer who has collaborated with the likes of Sam Mendes, Kevin Spacey, Michael Boyd and the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). His talk covered a range of his theatrical projects and it was fascinating to hear how he has approached the transformation of theatrical spaces as well as different iterations of the same play for different directors.
However for the majority of us attending, he is most well-known for the ‘poppies project’.
In 2014, 888,246 ceramic poppies were planted in the moat surrounding the Tower of London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Britain’s involvement in World War I.
A collaboration between Tom and Derby-based ceramic artist Paul Cummins (who originally approached the Tower of London about filling the moat with his ceramic blooms), the poppies were planted by 21,000 volunteers between July and November to create the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation. After the event, the poppies were packed into commemorative boxes and sold for £25 each with the proceeds going to the six affiliated charities: SSAFA, The Royal British Legion, Help for Heroes, Coming Home, Combat Stress and Cobseo.
Tom shared how the project came about, the meeting of minds and synergy of different talents between he and Paul, the logistical challenges of the installation (there was a point where they ran out of poppies) and how unexpected the public response was.
What I didn’t know was that two of the features from the installation – Weeping Window and Wave – have gone on to have a life of their own. Since their departure from the Tower, there have been a further seven installations with Weeping Window finishing its 2016 run at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales in November.
(Please excuse the quality of the images peeps – I was taking them from Tom’s slideshow!)
Weeping Window will visit four new locations in 2017 with Wave scheduled to be installed at a further two so if you are planning to be out and about – and you are interested – you can find out where here. From what I can see, the locations chosen are free to visit but all suggest booking so that the number of people to be accommodated can be managed.
I didn’t get to see the installation when it was at the Tower of London but I was absolutely astounded at the impact it had. Nightly news stories charted the progress in filling the moat, the visits by a whole range of dignitaries and the mounting public hysteria – with closures at nearby tube stations due to over-crowding – as the installation neared its completion and eventual dismantling.
I love that this installation continues to be so accessible. It feels a lot like street art to me – usually a combination of a ‘surprise’ appearance and a powerful statement – but on an entirely different scale and I am wondering whether I can manage a visit to any of the locations touted for next year.
War inflicts terrible losses on individuals, families, communities and society-at-large but in spite of it all, life does go on and I am so pleased that this moving tribute has been resuscitated again and again, and continues to honour those who give so much for their country.