On Monday morning, Antony Gormley’s installation One and Other opened on the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. Really I should be breaking out the inverted commas and writing ‘Antony Gormley’s’ installation, though, because, let’s face it, he can’t really have had to work too hard on it, can he?
The concept is this: people submit applications to spend some time on the plinth. They can do anything, as long as it’s legal. 2,400 people get picked out of a hat, and then for 100 days the plinth will be inhabited by the successful applicants, for one hour each.
Gormley, whose previous projects have included constructing a gargantuan flat-pack interpretation of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, calling it the Angel of the North and plonking it in Gateshead, and stationing an army of suicidal-looking cast-iron Gormleys on rooftops around London, said of the project: “The idea behind One and Other is simple. Through elevation on to the plinth and removal from the common ground, the body becomes a metaphor, symbol, emblem – a point of reference, focus and thought.”
Yeah. I wonder how long it’ll be before there’s a drunk bloke up there with his cock out?
Obviously, this will offer the perfect opportunity for armchair art critics to spew out lots of turgid little opinions stating just exactly what constitutes art in the 21st century, darling. It could also prove to be an interesting snapshot of a vibrant, diverse and multicultural country, brilliant and beautiful for some, broken and squalid for others, which will all be documented for posterity. But will it really mean any of that to the average passer-by? Or would they be just as happy with another humongous lion to spill their milkshakes on?
Look at what happened to David Blaine. He stood on a 30-metre-high pole in New York City for 35 hours in 2002, and the American people got behind him and cheered him on. Then, in 2003, he spent 44 days hanging out in a glass box dangled over Tower Bridge in London, with no food or nutrients, and after about three hours people were throwing sausages at him. One man actually tied a burger to a remote-controlled helicopter and flew it up there as a taunt, hovering just inches away from the hungry illusionist’s hirsute face.
So far on Gormley’s plinth, among many others, we’ve had a man wearing a panda suit, a guy telling us he’s not a pigeon, and some twat completely missing the point – but quite nicely reinforcing mine – by advertising his pub chain. So what could go up there instead to capture the nation’s imagination?
Perhaps a symbolic representation of how the NHS will triumph in its battle against swine flu, featuring a sexy nurse frantically smashing a live pig, piñata-style, with a huge tube of anti-bacterial handwash until it stops squealing and bursts to unleash a bellyful of little packets of Tamiflu on the adoring hordes of hypochondriac Londoners below? Or a profligate MP reading out a jaw-droppingly long list of hooky expense claims while rotten tomatoes spiked through with rusty nails are distributed among the baying crowd? Or how about just sticking Jordan up there for the entire 100 days while a choir comprising thousands of bystanders incessantly sings an a cappella rendition of Mysterious Girl – including the Bubbla Ranks bit – at her until she claws her own tits off?
Because that’s what the majority of British public really wants: good old-fashioned ritual humiliation; something they can laugh at, point and chuck things at and film on their iPhones. This is not to say Gormley’s fourth-plinth project would be redundant in another context, say in a certain famous gallery a few yards away, but in its actual location, once the novelty wears off and boredom sets in, how long will it be before people start lobbing sandwiches? Perhaps that’s part of the point – that art is as much about people’s reactions as it is the exhibit itself?
Time will tell, but I know one thing that this project does have in common with scores of other works by modern artists: Antony Gormley’s getting a lot of column inches out of an idea that can’t really have been that difficult for him to execute.