Many areas of London transform from a quiet road into a vibrant square in a matter of minutes. We were winding down James Street, taking in the lovely boutiques and cobblestone side walks. I blinked and suddenly the area had opened up into Trafalgar Square.
The space feels majestically enormous. Nelson’s Column sits in the center. To my right was the National Gallery, and to my left, St. Martin-in-the-Field’s Church with Parliament dead ahead. The traditional architecture, iconic statuary and expansive views make you feel the city’s size and power. At the same time, the space feels contemporary, casual and intimate. Londoners sit on the steps eating lunch, while tourist gawk and take pictures. Meanwhile a DJ started up in the corner.
The statues in the square mix historic classics with contemporary additions. Right now, an oversized blue hen is on display amidst three colonialism era war heroes. Just from the color, the hen lives up to its aims in challenging expectation and stirring public discussion.
This current statue is one of the many installations placed in Trafalgar Square. During a tour with our university, we learned that starting in 1999 the city devoted the fourth plinth to public art. Ever since, a new installation is commissioned for a one-year exhibition. Previous works have included:
1999 Ecco Homo by Mark Wallinger: a life-sized (much smaller than the other statues) depiction of Jesus
2005 Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn: an oversized statue of Alison Lapper, an artist born with no arms and shorten legs
2009 One & Other by Antony Gormley: a three month project where a new person sat atop the plinth for one hour on ever hour on every day, doing whatever he or she felt like
2010 Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare: this piece made reference to Nelson’s column and the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s now permanently on display at the National Maritime Museum.
2016 Really Good by David Shrigley: a statue of a thumbs-up positioned human hand. The thumb’s length will be greatly exaggerated compared to the rest of the fist.
Author’s Note: Shrigley, the artist commissioned for the upcoming installation is an interesting character. Commonly described as “darkly brilliant,” he wanted to be an artist since early childhood. Despite his dedication to the practice of art making, teachers use to disregard his sketches as trivial and humorous. Today viewers continue to find his work funny, and while this initially bothered him, he’s come to realize that even if art’s “sole function is not to make people laugh… comedy is vital.” That said, I’m quite curious to see the 2016 release of Really Good.
Photo from Hello Magazine