Living statues "“ those people who dress in bizarre costumes, frequently involving head to toe metallic paint, and plant themselves in well-traveled thoroughfares "“ are already a staple of London's urban landscape. Some are pretty cool, others simply annoying and weird.
But this summer, British artist Antony Gormley is elevating the living statue, or perhaps more accurately, soap-boxing it, to the realm of high art. Gormley, a well-respected British sculpture artist, has put together the "One & Other" project, which will see 2400 regular British folks hoisted up on the empty fourth plinth ringing London's historic Trafalger Square, one for each hour of every day for 100 days, rain, shine, or pigeons. The ordinary Joes (or Nigels or Janes) are each given an hour to do exactly what they want from their very public perch, whether it's celebrating a birthday party, appealing on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or dressing as a panda bear. Right now, as I'm watching, some guy is shouting something about the Christian Aid organization (it's a bit difficult to hear).
The project generated quite a lot of buzz in the weeks of its organization "“ 21,136 potential "plinthers," as they're being called, applied for only 2400 spots. [Image courtesy of Flickr user Where The Art Is.]
Gormley, whose previous works have included life-size bronze casts of himself perched atop buildings around the city, said that he hoped that the project would inspire a "certain degree of anarchy," and that the project is an exploration of the connection between the individual and the society he or she represents.
Anti-smoking activist disrupts kick off
So, while the project and its intended "certain degree of anarchy" is in and of itself very interesting, it was the unplanned anarchy (I know, that's somewhat redundant) around its opening on July 6 that perhaps eclipsed it. Just five minutes before the first plinther was scheduled to ascend the platform, a lone, rabid anti-smoking activist slipped the guards, sprint across the balustrade, threw himself on the safety netting around the plinth, and shimmied, unassisted, up to the top. Stuart Holmes, a veteran soap-boxer who typically harangues from out in front of the High Courts and who may also be Spiderman, carried a sign reading "Save the Children. Ban Tobacco and Actors Smoking." [Image courtesy of Flickr user aarkangel.]
Gormley, who appeared not too fazed by Holmes's stunt, appealed to the protestor's better nature, asking him to do the "gentlemanly thing" and make way for the real plinther. At one point, Holmes yelled, "Give me a mic!" to which Gormley gamely responded, "You should have brought your own, that's the rules!"
This was unplanned art at its best "“ even Boris Johnson, London's mayor who was part of the kick-off festivities, seemed to agree: After alternately lauding Holmes for his attempt to hijack the show and pleading with him to get down with some exceptionally bad puns ("one day your plinth will come"), Johnson ultimately said, "I want to thank the organizers and thank this man for ascending the plinth as brilliantly as he has... What is fame? Is it a lottery or is it self-selected as this chap's demonstration? This is one of the questions the fourth plinth asks us to meditate on."
Holmes, who gave his occupation as "anti-smoking activist," said, on his descent, "Actors smoking in films is enticing children to the holocaust of smoking," but little else.
The project will continue through October 14 and is visible to the world via a live feed.