It seems typical of the British establishment to sponsor such a grotesquely inward-looking and inappropriate work of art as “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” as part of the commemoration of the First World War. I have not been to see it in the flesh, and when I first saw photographs I assumed they were real poppies, temporarily planted in the moat of the Tower of London. But it turns out that the work consists of 888,246 ceramic poppies, one each for the British and Commonwealth servicemen’s deaths during World War One, spewing out of the Tower of London into its dry moat.
I realise that the artist, Paul Cummins, may well have had a prescriptive brief, but my own take on the tragedy of WW1 does not only include the British and Commonwealth soldiers, who may or may not have been willing, but every person of any age or nationality or allegiance, who was shot or stabbed or blown up or crushed or starved as a result of the the First World War.
The estimated total deaths for WW1 is between 15 and 16 million but Cummins’ work commemorates less than a million, as if civilians and foreigners are of no value. We would do well to remember that any war is a tragedy for humanity, and a world war is merely a proliferation of the same.
I have mixed feelings about wearing a poppy at this time of year. Similarly about the white poppy, worn as an anti-war symbol. I am not against supporting ex-servicemen, quite the opposite, but the continued glorification by our establishment cannot be justified, and there are those such as our government that attempt to use this symbol to represent views not compatible with my own.
I have an entirely unfunded artwork that commemorates the estimated 16 million deaths of the First World War. It is called Casualty 14-18 and makes no distinction between combatants, civilians, men, women or children. It is a generative work that publishes a representation of each casualty, as a daily average, of every life lost in the First World War.
Not just the British and Commonwealth servicemen. Everyone.
The average is 10,200 deaths per day for the 1,568 days of the First World War, from the day the first shots were fired on the 28th of July 1914 until Armistice Day on the 11th of November 1918. We are at day 105 of 1,568.