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Poppy Field: the stain of light

Written by Megan Chester, posted on Monday, October 22, 2018

Since 2014 we have been marking the centenary of the First World War, and as we approach the centenary of the Armistice this year a number of contributors have come together to reflect on the theme of Remembrance, and the ways in which we honour the fallen here at Christ Church Cathedral.

One of our special events, by which we commemorated the centenary of the Armistice, was Poppy Field: a sound and light installation designed by the internationally renowned artist Peter Walker. This moving and poignant display​ was on show in the Cathedral 11-13 October. One of our students, Megan Chester, wrote this piece in response to it.


When darkness falls on Oxford, it does so dramatically. Small red lights lay in lines, lighting up the pathway that I walk so often and know so well. A crowd of people stood under Tom Tower, as is often the case, but this evening was different. They had come to discover, to observe, to remember and reflect.

‘Poppy Field’ is an artistic installation that took place in Christ Church Cathedral. It covered ancient architecture with the most vivid and vibrant of paint – light. This paint was mixed on a pallet with music and words to create an experience which facilitated people in both individual remembrance of those fallen in war, and in collective commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice. Music, words and light are each very at home in the Cathedral, but through ‘Poppy Field’, they worked with and transformed the space.

The installation reached and wrapped every corner of the Cathedral, entwining itself around each pillar. It continued out into the cloisters, where green light shone down the walls. The colour green was a breath of restoration and brought hope to the eyes, after being previously engulfed in red. Suddenly, the leaves I’d earlier caught sight of through the windows made sense. I had seen a flicker of something which went back and back. Of something which represented a great history of lives and of deaths.

The Luxmuralis project was curated and directed by artist Peter Walker. Upon speaking to Walker, I was fascinated by the way in which this artwork only meets its canvas towards the end of the creation process. Walker described how the installation is a painting which people walk through. He explained that people usually spend an average of about 3.5 seconds in front of a painting in a gallery. Conversely, ‘Poppy Field’ is about “allowing people the time to think” of lost ones, loved ones and memories of war.  In life today and in the busy city of Oxford, we can easily become victims of that 3.5 seconds. In the chaos, however, people are willing to travel, commute and move. Occasionally, we allow ourselves to, in turn, be moved.  It therefore makes sense, that by travelling through a painting, we are urged to slow down. In a way, movement stills us. Walker spoke of the idea that “when you stand in front of a painting, you own it”. I cannot help but think that when you stand in a painting, for a moment it owns you.

Painting with light can be washed away completely and immediately – with the flick of a switch, it is taken and leaves no visible stain.  And yet, that which it imprints internally is not so easily removed. Soldier upon soldier fell and falls today. They may have lost their lives in an instant, but their light cannot and will not be extinguished. It leaves a precious stain and continues to shine.


Megan Chester, is from Chester. She is 21 years old, in her second year at Christ Church. Megan studies English and really enjoys writing, especially poetry.