15 Jun, 2009

I’ve got my hour on the plinth, but what should I do?

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The first winners of the draw to spend an hour as sculptor Antony Gormley’s fourth statue in Trafalgar Square have been revealed. Our arts correspondent Vanessa Thorpe is among them

It is a lottery with a difference. A public-access talent show with a twist. This weekend 615 people (including me) have discovered they are among those who have been selected by computer to take their place for one hour as a “living monument” on the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

By pure chance, another of those to have been picked is one of the architects who helped design the pedestrianisation of the square. There is also a wheelchair user who campaigns for disabled rights, and an art student who will see in her 20th birthday with cake and champagne.

The 100-day event, called One & Other, is sculptor Antony Gormley’s winning submission in the long-running scheme that allows artists to fill the plinth for a limited period. One & Other will, Gormley suggests, “be like opening up a Pandora’s box of ideas”.

“It is usually only terrible things that make a nation take stock. I hope this will do the same thing, but in a playful way,” he told the Observer

More than 13,000 people have applied so far and those who have been successful in the first draw of names will take up their high-profile roles from 6 July, night and day, rain or shine. Three further draws will decide who else climbs up to flank Nelson’s Column during August, September and early October. Gormley himself was unlucky in the draw. But he had just the same chance as any other London entrant, he pointed out. “It is completely randomly selected by computer. I applied and I didn’t get picked.”

In truth, as an applicant from the capital city, the artist had a slightly smaller chance than other people across Britain, because there are many more applicants from the London area. The computer algorithm used to select winners has been set up to choose an equal number of men and women and to find candidates from as wide a geographical spread as possible.

At the moment, there is a bias of applicants from southern England, with more than 6,000 people chasing 304 places. In Northern Ireland, there are just over 100 applicants for 67 places, so the chances of being selected are much higher there. Gormley hopes to correct the balance of applicants in the time still available. “It is not first-come, first-served, and that is important. Anyone who enters now has just as much chance as anyone else who has entered,” he said.

The fourth plinth was built for an equestrian statue meant to balance one of George IV on the opposite side of the square. Because of insufficient funds, no work was commissioned and the plinth remained unused. Since 1999 it has brought new art to the public,including Marc Quinn’s controversial statue Alison Lapper Pregnant and Thomas Schütte’s Model for a Hotel

Among the chosen “living sculptures” revealed this weekend is David Rosenberg, a 41-year-old architect who worked with Norman Foster on the pedestrianisation of the square, plans to make his 10pm slot count. He will mount his pink, folding bike and use pedal power to light up a specially designed suit. A fan of Gormley’s work, he believes the “living sculptures” will make a welcome change to conventional public art. “Art should try to make sense of our world. And this seems a good response to the bombastic, patriarchal and militaristic statues you see. You wonder how much of it actually is art,” he said.

Rosenberg, who regards himself as “self-centred”, made the decision to apply for a place on the plinth partly because of his strong feeling for Trafalgar Square. “I used to visit the National Gallery with my grandmother. And my uncle was badly injured in a traffic accident on the north side of the square. He survived, but he was in a coma for a while and it changed his life. That is an accident that could not happen there any more.”

Retired teacher Gwynneth Pedler, at 83 the oldest “plinther” selected so far, plans to go up in her wheelchair and signal messages with semaphore flags in the early hours of the morning. “It will be really exciting,” she said. “I enjoy answering challenges. You need to take on challenges, because you can get to prove that you are still in the world.”

For Gormley, whatever the winners decide to do will amount to a kind of performance. “There is a distinction between what somebody looks like and what they are. And a difference between what they think they might do and what they do. It is about making something. It is the transformation of an impulse into an act. An hour is a long enough time for the subject to think in a lot of different ways about who they are,” he said.

Oliver Parsons-Baker, 26, an aquatic scientist from Birmingham, plans to highlight the global shortage of clean water by dressing up in a “poo costume” for half his time on the plinth. He will then change into a fish costume to illustrate the dangers of over-fishing. For Kay Lockley, 48, from Oldbury, a place on the plinth will be used to raise awareness of lupus, a disease of the immune system from which she suffers.

Gormley does not think the plinth ought necessarily to be used as a soapbox, although he knows it will. “I love the idea of just dancing up there, or of a guy who wants to project his film. Everybody, I think, has a little tickle inside them to do something they have never had the right plinth for before.”

For those plinthers bemoaning a slot in the dead of night, Gormley has some words of comfort. “The nighttime will be great, actually. If the LED lighting works, it will be very bright. It will be a little arena. I think it will be magical.” The scene on the plinth will be broadcast 24 hours a day at www.oneandother.co.uk, where viewers can vote for their best bits. It will also be covered on Sky Arts starting on 10 July. A full-length documentary is also planned to sum up the event, from the first application to the final hour. The Gormley project will be replaced this autumn by a statue of Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park, which will be displayed for six months.

Platform for art

The empty plinth, or “fourth plinth”, in Trafalgar Square was intended to support an equestrian statue that was to have faced one of George IV across the square.

A lack of cash meant that it remained unused until 1999, when the Greater London Authority’s Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group started to use it for new art that would generate cultural discussion.

Works mounted so far include Marc Quinn’s controversial Alison Lapper Pregnant and, until the end of May, Thomas Schütte’s Model for a Hotel. Antony Gormley’s One & Other “living sculpture” project begins on 6 July.

• Help Vanessa decide what to do during her hour on the plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square on 14 July from 3pm. Post your suggestions below.

Up on a pedestal

Vanessa Thorpe, 42
Observer writer. “I have a couple of ideas for things to do but I would like to hear suggestions. I will, of course, be ‘tweeting’ throughout.”

Gwynneth Pedler, 83
Retired primary school head from Oxford. “I am on from 3am, but at least that means I won’t get sunstroke. You need to take on challenges to prove that you are still in the world. I will be up there with my wheelchair and I will use semaphore flags to say, “Hello, I’m here!”

Scott Cupit, 41
Dance teacher from Australia. “I am quite new to London. I have just started my own swing dancing school in Brick Lane. I am going to dance for the whole hour. I am asking my students to come to the square to dance along with me, following my moves at least part of the time.”

Steve Norris, 31
A triathlete from Hertfordshire and internet businessman. “I watched the Beijing Olympics and thought it was amazing. So I decided to train for the triathlon. I want to get my bike up there on a travelator so that I can try for a personal best over 25 miles.”

David Rosenberg, 41
Designer and architect, living in London’s Barbican. “I have drawn a slot at nightfall, so I am hoping to take up my pink bike and pedal to power a pink-lighted suit. I participate in naked cycle rides and there is plenty of precedent for unclothed sculpture, but it’s not me.”

Heather Pringle, 19
Fine arts student at Leeds University. “I won [a place] for 2am on my birthday and I will celebrate on the plinth with a cake and champagne. My family live near The Angel of the North, so they knew about Antony Gormley. My friends will come down to see me.”

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