In these final days of the World War I Centenary, Canary Wharf is again staging a Remembrance Art Trail produced by the artist Mark Humphrey in collaboration with the Royal British Legion (RBL). Returning to the Wharf for the first time since 2014 the Trail includes six of the previous works, with five others seen together for the first time.
Every One Remembered – Jubilee Plaza
On exiting Canary Wharf tube station into Jubilee Plaza one is immediately confronted with ‘Every One Remembered’ – a 7m high Perspex box containing a bronze sculpture of the centenary soldier. A thoughtful figure periodically surrounded by swirling poppies symbolising his comrades remembered. Being both imposing and yet simultaneously quite personal, this sets the tone for the Trail.
Nearby, in Montgomery Square ‘Lost Soldiers’ is the only major work to incorporate personal items that were used in battle. The positioning of helmets on top of poles mirroring the WWI practice of staking the rifles of badly injured soldiers in the ground near where they lay, and placing their helmet on top to advise others of their presence amidst the chaos. Including as it does helmets worn in all major conflicts from WWI to Mosul in 2016, this is an entirely sobering work, in particular the decimated helmet from the Somme, and the pole with no helmet, signifying conflict to come.
Lost Soldiers (Montgomery Square)
The 2018 Trail demonstrates effective use of contrasting scale to evoke emotion. Nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘Lost Armies’. The positioning of a pristine pre-battle army, and its dismembered post-engagement remains – either side of a path in Jubilee Park, is all the more effective for the fact that the armies are in miniature against the backdrop of a giant tree species. Behind the ‘battle scene’, two large heads (by implication belonging to leaders) appear to argue, as if oblivious to the destruction around them.
Lost Armies (Jubilee Park)
Fallen Soldier (Cabot Square) occupies one of this year’s most iconic backdrops (One Canada Square), and within the context of the trail can be read in two ways. From tubes almost full with poppies to those containing almost none, representing successive loss, and in the other direction from less to more, representing the journey of the injured towards rehabilitation and hope.
Fallen Soldier (Cabot Square)
The Canary Wharf Estate being both relatively compact and accessible, lends itself to art on a grand scale. Yet the inclusion of photographs of members of Mark Humphrey’s family who served, together with the polished and engraved (Somme 1916) shell case carved at the frontline by his Great Grandfather, bring a very personal and human element to this exhibition.
Brass Shell Case carved by Mark Humphrey’s Great Grandfather
These items are exhibited in the foyer of One Canada Square, appropriately shown together with Humphrey’s two collaborations with former serviceman Nick Beighton, which are also deeply personal in nature. These chronicle Beighton’s journey from the attack in Afghanistan 2009 in which he lost his legs, through pain and the darkness of depression to his success as a Para-canoeist in the 2016 Paralympics. Panel 4 of ‘Trauma to Champion’ entitled ‘Darkness’ is almost completely black with a singular pinpoint of light – and by association – hope.
Nick Beighton Part 1 (Trauma to Champion:Windows of the Soul)
Positioned across the Wharf in strategic locations with some iconic backdrops, the Trail has a slightly epic quality. Like much of the other work produced for the centenary, these exhibits are gifts to the ‘Instagram age’. They are also designed to provoke response, and to encourage all of us – whether rushing to or from work – or making a special visit – to stop and reflect on the nature of sacrifice. However it is also a thoughtful collection which serves to both remind us of what we owe to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, while also considering the nature of recovery and redemption – a distinctive feature of the 2018 Trail.
Canary Wharf is a particularly (and perhaps to some surprisingly) apt, location for remembrance. The docks on which the estate stands took the full force of London’s Blitz. Their location as both a supply hub and site of manufacturing (key components of the Mulberry Harbours for D-Day were made nearby) making them an obvious target. But there is also a more contemporary resonance – over 50% of the current security staff in the Wharf are former members of the armed forces, and the 2018 Trail successfully takes its focus beyond remembrance and the honour of sacrifice, to encompass the redemption of a life beyond injury and loss.
The Wharf also lends itself to remembrance in other ways. Its squares and gardens are carefully designed and themselves encourage personal reflection – indeed Mark Humphrey has spoken of creating ‘a destination’ at which visitors can pay their respects.
During the last four years there has rightly been an intense focus on the Centenary of WWI. With the veterans of that war already gone and those of WWII fast leaving us, there is an urgency to ensure that successive generations understand the events and personal sacrifices that continue to shape the contemporary world. There have been some truly innovative and engaging artistic responses to the Centenary (see ‘At the going down of the sun’ for ‘A Sense of Place’ in 2017 for thoughts on the contemporary relationship between remembrance and art). Humphrey’s work for the Canary Wharf Trails easily stands with the best of this, and may indicate how our national relationship with remembrance could evolve as we move beyond the centenary.
The Remembrance Art Trail Canary Wharf is on until 11th November 2018
Find further information, including a downloadable map and details of walks here.