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Disintegrating Flesh Sculptures Put a Twist on WWI Memorials

With the 'Papaver Rhoeas' sculptures, Paddy Hartley does the exact opposite of 'preserving' memory.

by Anya Tchoupakov
20 October 2015, 6:10pm

Paddy Hartley, Papaver Rhoeas, 2015. Images courtesy of Paddy Hartley

With the centenary of World War I upon us, new ways of memorialising the conflict are popping up everywhere. In his series Papaver Rhoeas, Paddy Hartley does the exact opposite of 'preserving' memory: he uses the familiar symbol of the poppy and inverts its purpose, ultimately changing the meaning of collective remembrance.

Hartley has created a series of “pathologically preserved poppies created entirely from lamb’s heart tissue, horsehair and vintage suture cotton, presented in custom made blown glass specimen jar/artillery shell cases.” He tells The Creators Project:

“Two years ago, I had an idea on the train journey home from the studio. There had been a series of controversies in the media regarding the appropriate wearing of the poppy in the run up to Remembrance Sunday, but the meaning behind the symbolism of the poppy seemed to be getting lost in the debate. So I decided to create a series of sculptures that are intended to serve as a visceral reminder of the events that the poppy has come to represent. Sculpture whose material metaphorically and symbolically represented human loss and sacrifice.“

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The poppy sculptures will be displayed at various thematically diverse venues around London, from contemporary art museums to scientific and military institutions, signifying the universality of suffering and the volatile relationship between personal and social memory. “I also wanted to address the increasing cultural phenomena of our apparent collective need to be seen in acts of remembrance and of the memorialisation of those who have passed, both in civilian and military life,” says Hartley. “The sculptures I’ve created are not about numbers of casualties, nor are they about specific nationalities. They are about what has been lost, those we remember, how we remember, and how memory in time fades and passes with us.”

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The use of lamb heart tissue for the poppies is a representation of corporeal and physical destruction of life during wartime, as well as a nod to its religious symbolism of sacrifice. “As flesh turns to dust, similarly a selection of Hartley’s poppies are designed to transition from solid object to transparent ghost like forms and in some cases to disappear… a number of these sculptures will gradually fragment and disintegrate over the period of their display," the press release explains. "The physical object will literally transfigure to exist solely as a memory in the mind of the viewer. As temporary, transitory and ephemeral artworks, the Papaver Rhoeas sculptures dispute the veneration of the material trace and present a charged, vital and momentary reliquary for remembrance and memory.”

With these visceral depictions of transition, memory, and death, Hartley presents a new way of dealing with these concepts.

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This project was supported by the Wellcome Trust, with special thanks to the Dental Institute King’s College London. The sculptures will be on view in London from November 3, and will then tour around the UK.

Viewers are assured that “all biological material used in this project comes from lambs' heart tissue. All hearts have been sourced solely as a bi-product of the food industry from ‘off-the-shelf’ consumables. No animal has been harmed for the sole purpose of creating this artwork.”

See more on the website and under the hashtag #papaverrhoeas.  

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