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!
Spotlight on… Peter Liversidge’s outdoor installation ‘Currently and tomorrow’. A couple of weeks into April some cardboard placards appeared on the corner of Wennington Green, a small park in east London at the junction of Roman Road and Grove Road, with “Thank You NHS”, “NHS Heroes”, “Stay Safe – Isolate”, and “Thank You Bin Men” written on them, and over the last couple of months it has grown and grown. Literally hundreds of placards have sprung up on the corner of the street and now run the length of the railings down the road, and have recently begun appearing on the railings on the opposite side of the street as there is no more space! In addition to the original signs, there are now placards in support of and thanking teachers, post men and women, key workers, shop staff, care home workers, social workers, lorry and delivery drivers, and essential cleaners. There are also calls for “More PPE”, “More Tests”, “Do Not Privatise the NHS. Support It” and for social distancing, encouraging people to “Stay 2 Metres Apart”. This is intermingled with official banners from the local council (Tower Hamlets) echoing similar sentiments with official messaging to “Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives” and “Social Distancing Saves Lives. Stay two metres apart”. These text based signs are interspersed with few image led placards of rainbows; now synonymous with NHS support during Covid-19 and hearts for the NHS. Whilst these initially look like the work of rogue – well actually quite well intentioned – local residents, these placards are all down to British contemporary artist, Peter Liversidge. He has been based in London since 1996 and is known for his use of proposals and experimental projects where objects, performances or happenings occur over the course of an exhibition. Each day the artist adds another placard, and a few people have asked to donate a placard here and there (and no doubt some covert ones have been added to the mass by members of the public over the last couple of months). It follows on nicely from his earlier projects including ‘Notes on Protesting’ in collaboration with a local primary school displayed at Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 featuring placards and a video work, and his 2013 collection of ‘Free Signs’ also at Whitechapel Gallery. Though the pandemic is currently keeping the doors to museums and galleries closed, keep your eyes open as artists are now taking to the streets to brighten up and bring meaning to these strange and surreal times.