The geographical, historical, cultural, political and social centre of London is arguably, Trafalgar Square? On so many levels, Trafalgar Square is all about Britain. Take New Year’s Eve, Londoners (well, mainly young ones) come out in their thousands to see the new year in. It celebrates the significance of the battle of Trafalgar, a battle that was a defining moment in British history when Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson frustrated Napoleon’s ambitions at sea, paving the way for Britain’s dominance over the oceans for the next century. It has been the focus of political protest since 1844 and of course, has been the place where we celebrate contemporary national heroes.
The focus of the square is the stone column commemorating Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson and he is surrounded by kings and 19th century military heroes (some of who’s contribution has been lost in the mists of time-and in any event, not the purpose of this piece).
The Fourth Plinth – When the square was laid out in 1844, there was a plan to install an equestrian statue of King William IV who had been king of England between 1820 and 1827. Those seven short years produced some lasting effects on English society but William’s involvement in them is not well remembered. In fact, such was the lack of recognition in his contribution that there was not sufficient interest in a fund to raise money for a statue in his memory. Debate raged for years as to how to complete the square (which had a plinth already for his statue). But William’s plinth remained empty.
Finally, in 1999 the decision was made for a programme of temporary, contemporary art installations to fill the space, and fill the space, they certainly have. Being contemporary, they confront your senses, they provoke emotion, they require thought and always more to them than meets the eye. The current incumbent is a black fist with a protruding thumb entitled “Everything’s really good.” By David Shrigley. It replaced a skeletal horse which in turn replaced a blue cockerel. (I have heard one observer comment that they’ve replaced one cock with another).
So, whatever next? Recently, the next contenders for the coveted place were announced and went on display inside the National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk ). What are we to expect and which would you choose?
The Emperors Old Clothes -Raqs Media Collective
If you enter the viewing area from the Getty entrance, this is the first of the sculptures to greet you. On the face of it, this is the obvious and most suitable choice for the plinth. A classic white stone sculpture of the ceremonial dress of an important public figure. The title of the work suggests that these are the state robes of an emperor. But who and where is the emperor in question? Questions are what this piece is all about. Is power about the individual or the clothes that are worn. Is this power dressing or a dressing for the powerful?
The End-Heather Phillipson
When I first heard this described I was horrified and my reaction was that a blob of cream with a cherry on the top, and its accoutrements are not suited to Trafalgar Square. On seeing it and appreciating the concept, I am not so appalled. “The End is the cherry on the cream and on top of the cream and on the cream are the parasites.” The parasites in this case are represented by a drone. This piece is making a comment about the balance between the best things in life and the need for society to be protected. The square is a place of joy and mass protest. At what point does a society’s protector become invasive?
The premise here is that a disparate group of every day objects are presented in an alternate setting. As you would not expect to see a Volkswagen Camper van stacked high with a set of precariously balanced ladders forming what else but a high way. The artist has highlighted the examples in the developing world where beautiful sculptures are created by anonymous artists that brighten the bleak and banal.
Brown cork, white polystyrene and “painterly marks” help form an abstract structure reminiscent of a cartoon city. It requires some imagination to appreciate the artist’s view and like as not would provoke sentiment if it were selected to sit upon the plinth. Then again, that is the ethos of the plinth: To confront and challenge.
The invisible Enemy Should Not Exist-Michael Rakowitz
Challenging and confronting a different audience, this gets my vote on a number of levels. I recognise it from a similar beast in the British Museum but here it is represented in its original form, richly decorated. The Winged Bulls of Khorsabad in the Assyrian galleries at the British Museum ( http://www.britishmuseum.org )remind us of the power of past empires. The Winged Bulls guarded the royal palace, the bearded man’s head to show wisdom, the wings to show speed and the body to demonstrate strength. Put this replica from Palmyra, destroyed by insurgents in modern day Syria and a powerful statement of solidarity and resistance is made.
Fourth Plinth Shortlist Exhibition at the National Gallery
Between 19 January – 26 March 2017-Free admission