a tale of a few cities

More on One And Other

Posted in Art by petercombe on July 25, 2009

This article appeared on Bloomberg this evening and is really quite an interesting take on Antony Gormley’s public art piece in London’s Trafalgar Square.

one-and-other-flashMy Hour on Trafalgar Square’s Plinth Heckled by Rowdy Drunks

July 24 (Bloomberg) — Last week I put on a seal mask and stood on a sculpture plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square where I read stories and got heckled by drunks.

This was late at night since I spend my days productively as an equity-data analyst at Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News.

To my surprise, I was one of 2,400 people randomly selected to stand for an hour on the square’s vacant Fourth Plinth as part of sculptor Antony Gormley’s 100-day installation “One & Other.”

I had read a story about the project on Bloomberg Muse, went on line and signed up (in a personal capacity). A half hour later, they called and said that I had a place. There was a cancellation by someone from Northern Ireland who didn’t want to be there at 2 a.m. I thought about it for a minute, and said yes. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I intended to dress up as a seal and deliver an environmental message. I’m from Finland, and there’s a certain type of seal that lives there. I wanted to raise awareness that a lot of pups die in fishing nets, and that the government is reluctant to ban that practice.

Unfortunately, the only seal costume I found in London wasn’t available — they said it was damaged. Instead, I wore a seal mask that I had ordered online. It was quite small and made for children, so I didn’t wear it for a long time.

You get on the plinth with a crane. They have a temporary structure in the square with a waiting area before you go up where they interview you and take pictures.

Decorating Cake

The weather was all right, quite chilly. Before me was a lady decorating a cake and raising awareness for a charity; I’m not sure which one. After me, there was a guy with a candle and a foldable chair who read the Bible silently, to himself.

It was an amazing experience being in such a central location. It’s high up, and you have a lot of space around you. It feels as if you’re all alone in Trafalgar Square, which is usually full of people. I sat and dangled my legs over the edge.

I read a bit to myself, because my plan B was to do things that I don’t really have time to do. So I was reading a collection of the greatest short stories of all times, in Finnish. At two in the morning, you can’t really focus on anything too long. I had to skim stories by Guy de Maupassant and Giovanni Boccaccio because I was interrupted.

At that hour, you have people leaving clubs and bars who want to converse with you, I discovered. A lot of them were intoxicated. That actually proved to be a lot of fun.


They were saying that I wasn’t entertaining them, and that I was rubbish. It wasn’t my purpose to entertain them, but with the attention that the event has gathered, the assumption is that people will do silly things.

I asked them what they wanted me to do. They started jumping up and down, and then we all did it. I did silly jumps. I repeated their moves. I blew soap bubbles from a green plastic bottle bought at a service station, and they chased them. They threw chocolates at me and called me Kit Kat.

It was more like them entertaining me. The tables turned.

My parents and sister called from Tampere, in Finland. They had just woken up. It was 5 o’clock in the morning there. They saw me online, and wanted to say hello. It was quite a surreal experience, because they could see what I was doing.

You’re very exposed, and scrutinized, because everyone has expectations of what you’re doing. It gives people a bigger voice, for a while. With the conveyor belt of people, your message is lost, regardless of what you say. It’s a representation of how media attention amplifies you — for the time that you’re on the pedestal.

Tangible Art

For so many people to participate in something like this makes art (that’s often lofty and hard to grasp) tangible. The National Gallery behind the plinth is the antithesis of that because it displays grand masters from centuries ago, and the only connection you have with them is seeing them and reading about them. Here, you can be part of something that’s considered art as well.

I don’t think I’d go back. The second time wouldn’t be as authentic. If I did, I’d prepare something, maybe approach the seal theme from a different point of view — and get a seal costume.

Kaj Alftan

Gormley’s “One & Other” ends on Oct. 14. For more information and to apply for a place, go tohttp://www.oneandother.co.uk/ . For more on the annual Fourth Plinth sculpture commission, go tohttp://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/ .


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