SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Papaver Rhoeas

Papaver Rhoeas - Iron Stained Poppy

Date: 3 November 2015Time: 10:29 AM

Finishes: 28 November 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery

Type of Event: Exhibition

Artist Paddy Hartley has created a series of highly emotive and thought provoking hand made poppy sculptures using pathologically preserved lamb’s heart tissue.

Drawing on the poppy’s synonymity with the commemoration of World War 1, Papaver Rhoeas are finely crafted artworks produced by a unique team of art and science practitioners that address contemporary notions of remembrance and the cultural phenomena of memorialisation. Each sculpture will be placed in a diverse range of cultural institutions across London from November 2015.

Paddy Hartley’s poppy sculptures are composed of lamb’s heart muscle tissue, horsehair and vintage suture cotton and are presented like pathological specimens in glass blown jars that have been designed in the form of spent World War 1 artillery shells. Every poppy varies in colour and composition, and each will be installed in a thematically diverse range of institutions covering topics such as the military, science, social history, theology and contemporary art. They will reflect the highly volatile and variable nature of both personal and social memory, and address how particular narratives from different voices may be authenticated or disavowed. Importantly, the sculptures draw no affinity to any notion of nationality nor numbers of dead, but acknowledge all lives lost during conflict whether they are service personnel or civilian, young or old, or from any faith or ethnic background. Instead, they emphasise our universally shared vulnerability of the flesh.

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Papaver Rhoeas Biotissue Sculpture by Paddy Hartley

We live in a culture of increasing real world and virtual memorialisation and there are ever more frequent rituals and ceremonies devoted to the bygone past. Many World War 1 commemorations take place at legitimised national museums, monuments and archives where the horrific events of 1914 -1918 have been stratified through preserved documents, objects and accounts. In stark contrast to this, Hartley’s chosen medium is muscle tissue. The anatomy of each sculpture has a literal connection to the actuality of the events that the poppy has been assigned to memorialise such as the loss of the body, the passing of life, the blood spilled and the decomposition of flesh on the battlefield.

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. As a result of intensive experimentation with enzymes and tissue clearing processes, a number of these sculptures will gradually fragment and disintegrate over the period of their display. 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 the centenary of World War 1 upon us, it is an opportune moment to examine the reasons for the cultural compulsion for memorialisation and ask if a moment of closure from trauma might be possible. Do we memorialise for those lost, or for ourselves? With continued and new conflicts wrought across the globe, why are we seemingly unable to learn from the events of the past?

With the passing of living memory, the grip of those with the most fierce, impassioned and raw connection to each war is gradually loosened and the events they endured inevitably become systematically assimilated into the history of all other conflicts. Hartley offers another option. These poppies remain a mirror for memory itself, being in a state of permanent evolution and, in some cases, susceptible to disappearance. He presents the notion that a more vigorous and productive interaction with remembrance may well entail an ability to forget.

Supported by the Wellcome Trust

With special thanks to the Dental Institute King’s College London

Key collaborators:

  • Dr. Ian Thompson, Medical Device Innovation, Dental Institute King’s College London
  • Mr William Edwards, Curator of the Gordon Museum of Pathology, King’s College London
  • Professor Malcolm Logan, Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics, King’s College London

Curator: Niamh White



Other hosting venues 

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB 
Open: Daily 10:00 - 16:15

The Florence Nightingale Museum

2 Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7EW 
Open: Daily 10:00 - 17:00

Museum of the Order of St John - The Crypt

St John’s Gate, St John’s Street' London, EC1M 4DA 
Open: Monday - Saturday 10:00 - 17:00

Firepower - The Royal Artillery Museum

Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London, SE18 6ST 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 - 17:00

Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum

St Mary’s Hospital, Praed Street, London, W2 1NY
Open: Monday - Thursday 10:00 - 13:00

Gordon Museum of Pathology

Hodgkin Building, Guy’s Campus, King’s College London, London, SE1 1UL 
Open: by appointment

Saatchi Gallery

Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY 
Open: Daily 9 - 30 November 10:00 - 18:00

Foundling Museum

40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ
Open: Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 - 17:00 Sunday 11:00 - 17:00

Sir John Soane’s Museum

13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 - 17:00

Sample Images