diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Trafalgar Square (4): The fourth plinth
There was always meant to be a sculpture on Trafalgar Square's northwestern plinth, it's just that the money ran out by the time the rest of the square had been completed. Nobody quite got round to remedying the situation for the next 150 years, not least because it was impossible to agree who else to commemorate, until the RSA stepped in and commissioned a series of three sculptures in 1998. First up was Mark Wallinger's Ecce Homo ("Whether or not we regard Jesus as a deity, he was at the very least a political leader of an oppressed people"), then Bill Woodrow's Regardless of History ("The tree ...makes reference to the never-ending cyclical relationship between civilisations, knowledge and the forces of nature") and finally Rachel Whiteread's Monument ("I decided that the most appropriate sculpture for the plinth would be to make a 'pause': a quiet moment for the space"). The usual overblown arty waffle maybe, but the project was successful enough to initiate an ongoing series of temporary works on the fourth plinth. Starting with...

This is Alison Lapper Pregnant, a sculpture which ticks almost every box a government committee's diversity policy could demand (except it's not black). The sculptor Marc Quinn claims that his marble effigy counterbalances the innate masculinity of the square ("Nelson's Column is the epitome of a phallic male monument") (although I suspect he may just have nicked that line from Not The Nine O'Clock News). This isn't the first depiction of disability in the square - indeed Nelson's right arm is even shorter than Alison's - but it is the first statue to elevate an ordinary citizen to extraordinary acclaim. It's a striking piece, dominating the square at eye level, and extremely powerful in its positive portrayal of physical impairment. I was more impressed than I anticipated by this gleaming sculpture, as it appears are the multitude of pigeons now roosting around Alison's feet. Maybe they're queueing in readiness for the next work to appear on the fourth plinth - Thomas Schütte's Hotel For The Birds - which is due for installation in early 2007. In the meantime perhaps it's just as well that Alison is white, because that's the way the pigeons like it.

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