My wife and I took a whirlwind tour of various places in England recently and poppies seem to have been a common theme on our travels. From the roadside "wildflower" embankments and the ruddy fields to the occasional "barley rose" that breaks the monoculture of seemingly endless fields of cereal crops destined for the breakfast bowl, bread basket or brewery.
At a time of interminable turmoil, political, social, economic, and geographic, as nations pull apart and posture, law enforcement and communities are ripping into each other and never a day passes without terrorist activity and threat, the poppy remains a symbol of hope in the English countryside. Its blood red bloom bringing delicate life and color to wherever it sprouts, although at once melancholic.
On our travels we took to the ramparts at Lincoln Castle to view Poppies: Wave, an art installation originally displayed at the Tower of London in August 2014 and created as "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" by Derbyshire-born artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper. The poppies that make up the astounding site are ceramic, each of the original 888,246 represented a British and Colonial death in the First World War. Each hand crafted in Cummins' ceramics works Derbyshire and at Johnson Tiles in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. The original 888,246 were made from almost 500 tonnes of Etruria Marl-based Etruscan red earthenware clay.
In stark contrast to the blood red wave was another inspiration installation, although this one full of life and almost entirely blue - Spencer Tunick's "Sea of Hull". In this artwork, 3,200 participants from twenty countries were painted one of four shades of blue with body paints created to match colors in the Ferens gallery's collection. The naked but blue artistes then posed at various landmarks across the city. Images from the living artwork will be exhibited during 2017's UK City of Culture events. The sea of blue humans seems in stark contrast to the melancholy and poignancy of the waves of poppies, life affirming, bring people together with a witty and positive message. Unfortunately, we were home long before this installation took place...and I'm not sure blue is my color anyway.
David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".