As a child and into my teens I would rub the belly of a small gold statuette of Ganesh – the Hindu elephant god – for luck. This idol was my grandfathers’, found while he was deployed in the Burma Campaign during World War II, and retained by him and now my mother. As a result, or perhaps with no bearing at all, our family has an affinity with elephants and I was intrigued to come across the ‘Herd of Hope’ in Spitalfields Market. Twenty-one bronze life size sculptures currently grace the east London market, having migrated from their former dwellings in Marble Arch. The largest sculpture represents the matriarch and is flanked by twenty smaller orphan sculptures, all by Australian artist duo Gillie and Marc in an effort to raise awareness of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The elephants sit in juxtaposition to their urban surroundings; one in front of a coffee shop, another outside a takeaway food outlet, and others outside office blocks. Though perhaps the intention is to encourage us to question our relationship with our habitats, and the impact human tourism, poaching and conflict has had on wildlife. Each orphan has a name and personal plight, from Ambo who was found stuck in a waterhole abandoned by the herd, to Musiara who was discovered collapsed having lagged behind his herd, and Sattao who was orphaned as a result of poaching and found wandering by tourists with injuries from a predator attack. Using bronze as a medium allows for the cracks, creases and idiosyncratic textures of their skin to be highlighted. Several of the elephants are depicted standing, some are seated or lying down, some have their trunks held high and a scannable QR code enables you to learn more about each orphans rescue and rehabilitation. Deprived of museums, galleries and exhibitions until lockdown restrictions ease and arts venues can re-open, this troop provided a dose of outdoor culture.
The Forth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, however insufficient funds led to it remaining bare for over 150 years until the late 1990’s. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce conceived an initial project for the plinth in 1999 which lasted until 2001 featuring works by Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow and Rachel Whiteread. Following this projects’ instant success, The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was established and subsequent works have included Nelson’s ship (HMS Victory) in a bottle with sails made from printed African fabric by Yinka Shonibare, a bronze boy on a rocking horse by Elmgreen & Dragset, a 4.72 metre high blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch, a bronze human thumbs-up gesture by David Shrigley, and a recreation of a winged deity from 700BC Ninevah destroyed by Isis by Michael Rakowitz amongst others. Preamble over, and onto the current installation by Heather Phillipson entitled ‘The End’. It is the tallest work to grace the plinth at 9.4 metres high, and is an oversized dollop of whipped cream with various toppings; some traditional (a cherry and a fly) and some less typical (a drone, which transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square and the works’ audience). As well as it’s obvious questioning of state and surveillance, the work was originally intended to comment on global uncertainly post-Brexit and in the wake of the 2016 Unites States elections, as the whipped cream suggests instability as well as being something excessive but nutritionally poor. However, coronavirus meant that its’ installation was postponed by four months, and the public’s perceptions will have inevitably changed during 2020, and the work will now be viewed in a different sociological context. As uncertainty prevails and we live in time of increasing political, social, and economic upheaval where Trafalgar Square will undoubtedly be host to numerous protests, celebrations, and activity – what an interesting time to capture this all via an innocent looking dollop of cream!