Coming World, Remember Me – A Powerful Visual

It was a hot afternoon in the small town of Ypres, Belgium.  My husband and I had spent the whole day running around the surrounding countryside and visiting World War I battle sites.  There was plenty to see too.  The First World War was devastating for Ypres and nearby Flanders Fields.  The town was smashed to pieces, the ground was ripped up for miles, and the soil was filled with hundreds of thousands of dead.  It was so bad that a hundred years later, the scars still remain.  We walked through a good many graveyards that were filled with seas of white stones.  About one in five actually had names on them.  The rest were marked with the tragic words, “known unto God.”  We stood inside the Menin Gate, a huge memorial that is covered with over 60,000 names of the missing soldiers from Flanders Fields.  We hiked through fields and woods that still bore very visible remnants of the trenches and shell craters.  Some bunkers were still there, including the bunkers where a broken-hearted Canadian doctor penned one of the most famous poems in military history, “In Flanders Fields.”  His words captured the horrors of war so well that a century later, the poppy is still associated with this terrible conflict and all the lives it stole from us.  Indeed, it had been a heart-wrenching, albeit powerful, day.

So, as the afternoon heat set in, we wondered into a quaint pub located in the middle of town.  We found a table in the shade and ordered a snack plate along with some wonderful Belgian brews.  A very nice older couple sat at the table next to us.  They quickly recognized that we were Americans, and they asked what brought us to this quiet little corner of Belgium.  I told them that I was a military history enthusiast, and that I wanted to see all the Flanders Fields sites.  The lady said to me, “well you’ve seen the art exhibit then, right?”

I was intrigued.  What art exhibit?  I hadn’t heard of any exhibit going on around these parts.  Besides, I will admit that art exhibits aren’t on the top of my list of things to do while traveling.  I have a deep respect for painting, art, and sculpture, I just never really excelled at it.  It’s harder for me to connect with it than it is for some people.  However, I could tell from the photos on the nice lady’s phone that this art exhibit was quite beyond the norm.  It was something that most anybody could connect with, even someone like me.  So, first thing the next morning, my husband and I hit the backroads of Ypres, and made our way to an art exhibit called “Coming World, Remember Me.”

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Not even the nice lady’s pictures prepared us for what we saw.  After a brief hike along a wooded trail, we came upon a vast open land that was covered… COVERED… with tiny statues.  They stretched on and on and on, all the way to the distant tree line.  Looming over the endless statues was a large egg with still more statues, piles of them, spilling out of it.  We were mesmerized, devastated, and overwhelmed at the same time.  Because what we looked at wasn’t just an art exhibit.  It was a visual representation of something that, up until that point, had been very hard for me to grasp.

“Coming World, Remember Me,” or CWXRM for short, is a collaborative art project that involved the hands of thousands of people and multiple workshops from all across the world, and it took nine years to complete.  Together, all of these artists carefully sculpted 600,000 (yes, you read that number right) identical statues.  They’re each small enough to hold in your hands, and they resemble a human figure that sits with his head and back bent in pain (see photo below).  Each statue has a pronounced backbone which easily marks it as human.  According to the exhibit’s curator, this distinguished spine is also meant to symbolize the life force inside all of us and our deep potentials for love and creativity.  Each one of these 600,000 statues also represent a real person that was lost in Belgium during the First World War.  Each of these statues has a name, a personal dog tag, and an artist that is attached to it.  They each have a story, a background… a history.

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These 600,000 statues were taken to Palingbeek Provincial Park just outside Ypres.  Today it is a beautiful grassy field with tall, lush trees all around it.  A hundred years ago, it was the dreaded Ypres Salient.  It was one of the most fought over pieces of ground in the entire conflict, and it was the place where many of these 600,000 soldiers lost their lives.  Seen from overhead, the mass group of statues all converge to form the shape of Pangea, which is the supercontinent that broke apart to form our modern-day continents.  As for the egg with more statues coming out of it, this is meant to represent rebirth – the coming of a new world and a new mankind.

While stumbling around this exhibit in awe, I somehow had the presence of mind to get my camera out and start it rolling.  I hope this short video helps you better take in the vast scope of this fantastic work of art…

So, what exactly was it that I went out into the woods to see?  I’m not sure it was the statues or the egg, although believe me those are very moving and impressive.  I’m not even sure it was the historic piece of No Man’s Land that the entire thing sat upon.  No, what I went to this exhibit to see was numbers.  I have studied military history for a long time, and after each description of each battle, all the historians give you a number.  The Somme took almost 20,000 British lives in its very first day.  The Battle of Gettysburg came with a price tag of 50,000 casualties, with at least 10,000 of these being immediate battlefield deaths.  The Battle of the Bulge, one of World War II’s bloodiest battles, claimed almost 200,000 casualties, and it’s still too hard to calculate how many of these were battlefield deaths.  For Belgium in the First World War, after four years of horrific fighting over the fields and woods of Flanders, that number is 600,000 deaths.

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To me, numbers have always been hard to grasp.  When I was in school, it was math that I struggled with the most.  I think it’s because I’m a very emotional person, and numbers deal more with logic.  They show the hard truth without going into the why of it.  They leave no room for rule breaking, and you can’t argue with a number.  Without any of that, it’s hard to picture in my mind and in my heart what the number “600,000” really means.  What CWXRM has done is taken a cold number and breathed some very real life into it.  They made it personal.  These artists took each one of those many digits and gave them a real name.  They also gave me more numbers to think about.  Behind each one of those statues there was a family and loved ones who cried.  There were lives destroyed and hopes shattered.  So, when you think of the ripple effects, 600,000 quite easily balloons into the millions.  Maybe even the billions.  And that is just for one small part of the vast Western Front of World War I.  Suddenly, as you stand there, you are completely overwhelmed by the total devastation and destruction that is war.

But then, just as you are on the brink of emotional collapse, there is the egg.  There is the pile of baby statues that emerge from it.  Just like the others who were swiped too soon, these statues represent the real human inside all of us who are still here.  They remind us we each have something to offer.  There are people represented by these statues who will make us laugh, paint us pictures, cure our ailments, invent wonderous things, or dare I say, write us amazing stories.

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“Coming World, Remember Me” has taken that vast concept and put it out there for all to see on a tiny piece of land in Belgium.  You can hold the number 600,000 in your hands.  You can stand among it, and you can feel the pain of what war has taken from us.  You can make the number something real.  Then, you can have hope in the new world that beckons.

SOURCES

CWXRM Exhibit – Ypres, Belgium

www.comingworldrememberme.be

CWXRM Information Book – K. Vanmechelen

NOTE:  CWXRM is a temporary exhibit that will be on display until November 11, 2018 (the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day).  Once the exhibit is closed, the statues will be distributed among the artists and various museums around Belgium.  Some less fragile parts of the exhibit will remain in the park as a permanent display. 

Also a small correction, in the video I say the exhibit is called “Remember Me.”  I was in awe and forgot to say “Coming World” at the beginning! 🙂 

Want to visit CWXRM?  Plan your trip by visiting their website, listed under “sources” 

All photos by M.B. Henry.  For more from Belgium, click here. 

 

 

81 Comments on “Coming World, Remember Me – A Powerful Visual

    • Yeah we were pretty blown away. Video seemed like a better way for me to capture the scope of it, since I’m not a talented enough photographer to capture something that big. So glad I was able to share it with all of you, and glad you stopped by and enjoyed it!

  1. Wow! What a powerful image this portrays! I never heard of this before. You video made it even more realistic. What atrocities we do to one another in the name of being right! Thanks for sharing this.

    • Atrocity is a good way to put it. So many people have to die because a few corrupt people can’t agree. It’s a travesty.

    • Right? I couldn’t believe how big the whole thing was. What a concept those artists brought to life for us.

    • Yes, I will admit there were some tears when I visited the exhibit. It’s just overwhelming to see what a number like that looks like! Glad as always for your visits Dave!

  2. Oh my. I became overwhelmed with emotion at the pictures, and your story. 600,000. A number that will remain in my memory forever. I never knew much about WWI. This really opens ones eyes to the harsh reality of war. This is my favorite story so far. Thank you for telling it so well.

    • Oh a new favorite huh? 🙂 Yes it becomes especially overwhelming when you realize that this is just one small sector of the conflict.

  3. You are absolutely right when you say what does 600,000 mean? it’s a big number alright, but visual representations like this just show the enormity of it and how many living souls, young men, boys in many cases, it represents. It’s similar to the poppies at London, the carvings in the sand at Normandy, they truly give a feel to the extent and damage done in that terrible place. A lovely post and very well written.

    • Thank you very much. I am thrilled you brought up the poppy display in London. While I did not get to see it in person, they had anexhibit about it in the London Tower so I did get to enjoy that. They even had some of the poppies there on display. I can’t imagine how moving that must have been to see in person

      • Unfortunately I didn’t get to see it in person either, the queues were horrendous. But the pictures I’ve seen certainly look stunning!

      • Oh gosh I didn’t even think about a long wait to see it! Yikes… luckily we didn’t have that problem with the exhibit in Belgium since not many people seem to know about it yet

      • I’m wondering if as it gets closer to the anniversary of armistice day they’ll start putting more traffic out there.

  4. What a powerful blog entry! I had seen the vast military cemetries before but this art exhibition totally captures the atrocities of war. And yet humanity still wants to fight some more to this day. If only we could capture the powerfulness of what humanity has done in war and apply it to something peaceful. Can you just imagine what our world would be? As a recent newcomer to your blog, I am truly enjoying your work.

    • Your compliments put a smile on my face, so thank you. And what moving thoughts you share as well. The human race can do amazing things when we work together. It’s a tragedy that this is what it still comes to for solving differences!

  5. This visual is almost too amazing to comprehend…I can’t thank you enough for showing it to us. I will never see it in person, but you gave me an image I will never forget.
    One of my dad’s favorite poems that he would read to me when I was a child was “In Flanders Fields.” This gives me a fresh perspective.
    Your trip must have been awesome. Good for you.

    • I’m happy to share this incredible exhibit because it was very moving. I couldn’t believe the bunker where McCrae wrote that poem still exists and it is actually in very good condition. They have done a wonderful job keeping it up for future generations to see and remember. It’s hard to imagine what that ground must have looked like when he worked there!

  6. For some reason I could not “like” but I did post to Google + and the WW1 group I belong to. Well done and touching.

    • My many thanks to you for re posting and taking the time to comment 🙂 It was a powerful exhibit and I’m happy for your help in getting the word out about it!

  7. What a stunning tribute!

    Another legacy of war, something that will remain with us for centuries, is all of the ordinance that lies scattered about the battlefields. My brother, who is shortly concluding his military career, has been in ordinance disposal many of the last twenty years. He speaks of digging up explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in Europe and yes, the United States. There are still shells being found from the civil war and they are still considered lethal.

    • You are so right. Dangers remain long after the final shots fade away. I was just reading last week that WWII bombs in the forests outside Berlin are aggravating attempts to put out all the wildfires there. And one of the trails that we hiked in Germany (Huertgen Forest) cautioned us that there were still active box mines in the woods so we should stay on the trail. That must be a scary job for your brother, I’m so glad he has stayed safe!

    • Oh my goodness…. I gasped a little when I saw some pictures on google. What a shocking visual these artists can provide us with.

      • I haven’t actually been to see the exhibition yet, I’m hoping I can though. I was in Belfast a couple days ago but forgot it was there, and since then there was a huge fire local to it so it was out of bounds while they were dealing with it.

      • Gosh fires are a bad problem this year! We’ve had a bunch in California already too

      • This one was a huge five story store. The loss of the building is more significant to the history of the city sadly. Not that it makes it right but the store itself will be okay.

      • Oh you know I think I saw that on the news over here even.

  8. Very moving, you described it so well. My grandfather was in the first world war and suffered from the gassing so I never got to know him. I was really bad at maths at school too, the pocket calculator was the best invention ever for me.

    • Oh my gosh that’s awful about your grandfather. Poison gas was such a terrible weapon, I can’t even imagine. I agree about calculators, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be much good at math without them!

    • I would have had no idea either had that nice lady not told me about it. Such a fortuitous run-in, because we got to see it before they take it down!

    • We were very grateful to be able to experience it. Glad you came by and enjoyed it as well!

  9. There are often some people who wants to talk about war on the topic of “stories heard from acquaintances”, but you went to the Spot and “try to understand from Experience” the sacrificed civilians who were UNNAMED.

    It’s an Respectable Action!

    War is the “business” of ppl who want to Earn Money, and civilians(include soldiers) are always victims of all countries.
    It is forgotten that the victims were “a human being”.

    This Topic is wonderful! ! 😀

    • You make some excellent points here about war and the many victims, no matter what “side”. You are absolutely right, we’re all human and all suffer in a war! Thanks for reminding us all of that!

    • Yes it was for sure! Im happy to share it with all of you, thanks for coming by for a look!

  10. i don’t know that i could walk on battlefield graveyards… just reading this gave me the goosebumps. it’s so sad. i know people would see the beauty side – the art exhibit and the tribute paid to all those lives lost – and i suppose, in a way, i do too. but i’d be terribly sad – i am now and i’m just a reader on the other side of a screen.

    • I can certainly understand that. It is indeed a very emotional journey, and as you pointed out, it can be emotional just experiencing it through someone else. Glad you came by and shared your thoughts

    • I’m so glad it moved you. And I’m so glad we ran into that couple who told us about it!

  11. Whoa! This exhibit is quite moving to read about, so I can’t imagine the impact it would have on a person while you’re there. Incredible. I’m glad you shared this with us.

  12. That is astonishingly sad and beautiful. I had no idea that this sculpture existed – thank you for sharing. Imagine what an alien visitor would think about our strange species if he saw this?

    • That is a very interesting perspective to think on! And one I have to admit has crossed my mind more than once 🙂

      • Hey that was my dad’s favorite show! 🙂 I watched a few episodes and always enjoyed them. Did you see the movie Arrival? Boy that got my extraterrestrial wheels turning.

      • I have seen EVERY sci fi movie! Loved Arrival. I read all the science fiction and fantasy books in my local library.

      • Oooh good for you! I should read more sci-fi and fantasy than I do. Have you read “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig? It’s kind of sci-fi history I guess would be the best to describe it haha. So good.

  13. Thank you so much for the story and video! I had no idea this existed! My great-uncle was there in World War I and survived but his injuries and PTSD haunted him for the rest of his short life. He was an immigrant from Finland and actually a “conscientious objector” as noted on his draft card but was drafted anyway. I also had a cousin in WWI who suffered from the gas attacks and died shortly after coming home. So very sad! Your contributions of sharing history are so important and meaningful – Thank you again!

    • What a family history you have that is so tied with WWI. It was indeed a devastating conflict and I can’t imagine having lived through it. It’s so sad. I’m glad you came by to share your thoughts and family stories.

  14. I’d never heard of “Coming World, Remember Me” – it looks amazing. I was blown away the first time I visited Ypres and saw the Menin Gate; it was the first time I really comprehended the numbers.

    • The Menin Gate was very powerful for us as well. You are right, it sure packs a punch in terms of putting the numbers into perspective! All those names, all those lives… it is beyond tragic.

  15. What an exhibit – like others above, its the first time I’ve come across it. I was also deeply moved on a visit to Ypres a few years ago. The photos are stunning.

    • Thank you very much! Sometimes visuals like that put into perspective the things we can’t say. It was very moving. Where all around Ypres did you go? We very much enjoyed our visit.

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