the battle of trafalgar – the fourth plinth

20 August 2010 § 1 Comment

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Let battle commence! The finalists have been announced in the competition to find a replacement for Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. This in turn had followed Anthony Gormley’s One & Other, which allowed 2,400 members of the public their 15 minutes, or rather 60 minutes of fame atop the empty plinth. In my view the plinth has actually beome as important and certainly as talked-about as the work to be allowed to sit upon it – the thing itself surely is now worthy of elevation to iconic status. Why not just create a copy, gild it, and plonk it up on high? All hail the plinth. Problem solved! Sadly nobody asked for my view, so here are the competing sculptures arranged in my preferred order. The selection is actually is quite interesting,varied and is hard to criticise – too much – and I look forward to hearing the panel’s choice. The list is in reverse order (the artists own words in italics, my comments following) to allow the excitement to build to a crescendo!

6 Katharina Fritsch. Hahn/Cock.  “The sculpture, a larger-than-life cockerel in ultramarine blue, communicates on different levels. The mostly grey architecture of Trafalgar Square would receive an unexpectedly strong colour accentuation, the size and colour of the animal making the whole situation surreal or simply unusual. The cockerel is also a symbol for regeneration, awakening and strength and at the same time plays with an animal motif that was popular in classic modernism. Finally, the theme refers, in an ironic way to male-defined British society.” But are we not long over the male-dominated society hang-up by now? A big blue cock? Oo-er missus. Regeneration and strength surely not – it is just a big chicken. It is all just a bit silly – was she influenced by Wallinger’s Horse?

5 Brian Griffiths Battenburg. “The pink and yellow cake is a humble commemoration of the Victorian era and a link with a British past that has slowly crumbled. Increased to gigantic proportions, fashioned from a selection of traditionally made household bricks and placed on a plinth alongside other Victorian statues in Trafalgar Square, the cake becomes a wry monument to monumentality. The sculpture transforms the Battenberg as a symbol of teatimes past into a contemporary comment on commodity, commemoration and collective identity.” Cake as cultural icon. Witty, with the bricks referring nicely to the Victorian housing of London. But in the end looks like, well, a pile of bricks.

4 Hew Locke Sickandar. “The plinth was designed to receive an equestrian bronze: 170 years later Sikandar fulfils that original ambition. The artwork replicates the statue of Field Marshal Sir George White (1835-1912) in Portland Place and transforms it into a fetish object. The sculpture will be embellished with horse-brasses, charms, medals, sabres, ex-votos, jewels, Bactrian treasure and Hellenistic masks. It is not an anti-military critique. It is an investigation into the idea of the hero and the problematic and changing nature of heroism.” Fun and interesting, but down the list because it is totally impractical. Weather and pigeons will turn this into a plastic-bag regaled, dirty, messy lump, dripping with pigeon sh*t.

3 Allora & Caldazilla Untitled (ATM/Organ).“Untitled (ATM/Organ) consists of installing an automated teller machine in the fourth plinth, connected to a functioning pipe organ which will produce sound by driving pressurised air through pipes selected via the ATM machine keyboard. This project addresses a range of themes and subjects such as personal banking, global financial systems, commerce, the sacred and the profane, music-making and personal and public space in a humorous manner.” Fun at first it will become very, very annoying – and 100% sure to break down.

2 Mariele Neudecker It’s never too late and you cant go back.“It’s Never Too Late And You Can’t Go Back is elevated above the plinth and represents a fictional mountainscape. If viewed from above it reveals the flipped and reversed shape of Britain. From below, the map is the right way around and more familiar. Its location and fabric link with features of Trafalgar Square as well as to classical sculptures and sublime landscape paintings in the National Gallery. It provokes thoughts about a monumental past and future of both landscape and city.”  An interesting monument to Britain but I wonder about the practicalities. Will we see it properly or will the plinth get in the way?

1 Elmgreen & Dragset Powerless Structures Fig 101. “In this portrayal of a boy astride his rocking horse, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate. As in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, this enfant terrible’ gently mocks the authoritarian pose often found in the tradition of equestrian sculptures. His wild gesture, mimicking the adult cavalier, is one of pure excitement — there will be no tragic consequences resulting from his imaginary conquest.” A runaway winner. Mocks the daftly heroic statues of old with style and a sense of optimism and fun.

And the winner is……..  (to be continued)

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