Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Fourth Plinth - and other art

The ‘Fourth Plinth’ is the empty base of a non-existent statue in the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square. Since 1999 there has been a succession of temporary sculptures and other art pieces. Anthony Gormley won the commission for this summer with a really different idea: to have members of the public stand on the plinth for one hour each, running for 100 days – that’s 2400 people. They have applied online and been selected at random, although the selections are weighted to represent the geographical/population spread across the UK. People can do anything they like during their 60 minutes. The project (piece?) is called OneandOther.

Rachel from London doing her cleaning

I’ve been down to see what’s going on and it looks pretty successful. Certainly, when the weather is good there are many, many tourists and passers-by stopping to watch. Some ‘plinthers’ as they are now called seem to have their family and friends come to watch and support which increases the numbers. Mind you, I haven’t yet been at 3 in the morning, or when it’s very cold, wet and dark. On those occasions it might be single-figure numbers. As a warmer alternative you can stay at home and watch the live feed.

Robert Irving reading his book

My only minor criticism is of the untidy collection of portakabins, generators, JCB’s and so on which seems to be needed to support this endeavour and which now clutters the south-west corner of this important square. It’s a pity that one of the adjacent arts organisations couldn’t be persuaded to find some space (National Gallery, the DCMS or similar) and keep Trafalgar Square uncluttered.

On a connected point, I’ve been impressed by the willingness and ability of the arts community to host these risky, big-piece numbers and not be put off by the safety issues. I’m thinking of Tate Modern’s 2007 Doris Salcedo’s crack-in-the-floor Shibboleth piece (photo), where 15 people were injured, and Tate Britain’s recent revival of Robert Morris's Bodyspacemotionthings with 20 minor injuries.

With both these projects there were some injuries, but they don’t seem to have rattled the Tate management too much. This is a welcome and positive contrast to the usual cautious, risk-averse public bodies and private companies: all rules, notices, hi-vis patrols, box-ticking corporate cultures, which would surely say ‘no’ to something as risky as allowing the public to stand on a rectangle 4m x 2m at 8 metres up in the air. Well done the Tate and others.

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