Wounding Poppies: hyper-commemoration and aesthetic interventions – 2019

Published in Critical Military Studies.

‘In Britain the centenary of the First World War has generated new state-funded aesthetic, cultural, and educational activities. The red poppy has often been the focal point of artistic interventions, as artists have created works that respond to the potency of a symbol that has become, within a culture of hyper-commemoration, a ubiquitous part of everyday life. This Encounters piece offers a personal reflection on the aesthetic and social meanings of the red poppy, exploring how an intimate relationship with the mnenomic object is traversed by the public politics of the British nation-state. It contrasts two different artistic approaches to the red poppy – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins and Gail Ritchie’s Wounded Poppies – to argue for the importance of artistic practices that can contest and re-contextualize familiar symbolic objects that have accrued narrow, and affectively persuasive, political meanings.’

Keywords: commemoration, remembrance, aesthetics, red poppy, memory