Saturday 25 July 2009


There's a great anecdote about Sir John Gielgud who, on learning that the stage in Peter Brook's production of Oedipus Rex would be dominated by a 18-foot high golden phallus mounted on a plinth, asked: "Plinth Philip or Plinth Charles?"

That story came to mind when I first heard that the wonderful Anthony Gormley (see also here) had come up with a scheme for filling the fourth, vacant, plinth in Trafalgar Square (up-stage right of Horatio Nelson) with living statues twenty-four hours a day for 100 days.

The One & Other project has been running for several weeks now with a different member of the public on the plinth every hour, day and night, come rain or shine.

I tried to persuade David to put his name into the lottery so he could get up there and do an hour of magic but he was having none of it and, of course, it would have been a unique opportunity for a Buttons photo-shoot...

Anyway, there have been some interesting plinthians' (a coined word probably already destined to make it into the OED), though fewer actors, artists and musicians than I'd expected. There have been cricketers and conductors and people dressed as aliens and cartoon characters, someone organised a teddy bear's picnic and someone else drank tea out of a union jack mug while wearing a Danish t-shirt and playing Abba music! As I write this there's a guy who is not too successfully attempting to make a large inflatable hand by blowing up black bin liners...

However tempting it is to mock, at least they tried. Quite a lot of people, rather shamefully, have done nothing more than sit and read or make mobile telephone calls which activities are, frankly, at the bottom end of my creativity-appreciation schedule!

On Thursday - for the first time - someone was on the plinth whom we knew, so off we went up to Trafalgar Square to provide a little support in their, literally, making an exhibition of themselves.

Nelson and Sally II

SALLY, had a turquoise umbrella inscribed with messages of peace and good wishes and spent the hour turning it into a cross between a mobile and carousel by hanging up fluttering strings of beautiful white linen birds and leaves.

Each of the leaves was inscribed with the name of someone she knew who was in the square or, if she didn't know, them a description of what they looked like or were wearing.

Sally & doves

It was a particularly successful piece of plinthing, because it was visible from all points and because it developed both as an event and as a piece of creativity...

Sally's plinth-stint ran from 6 to 7 o'clock in the evening (she was, as it happened, the last plinther for several hours that day to plinth in the dry!) and I took advantage of the late afternoon sun to take some photographs of the famous fountains down below in the Square...

Fountain I

Fountain group X

Fountain group III

Fountain group (detail)

Fountain group VII

I absolutely loved Sally's plinthing, but, to be honest, I'm not sure whether I think Mr Gormley's plinthians are, for the most part, 'ART' - at least as we know it, Jim... However, they are most certainly part of a diverting and intriguing 'event' - a 'happening' - and, as such, are to be applauded for bringing a few smiles and thoughtful moments into our currently harried lives.

If you want to check out what the current plinthers are up to (and they will be at it until 14 October) you can visit SkyArts website with its live round-the-clock camera coverage.

(However, I'd give the next half-hour a miss if I were you as there's some young cove up there 'playing' the violin so badly as to make Jack Benny sound like Yasha Heifitz!)

Stormy sky

Going back to that production of Oedipus Rex, it's said that when, on the opening performance, the phallic set-piece was greeted by an astonished gasp from the audience, that deliciously wicked lady, Coral Browne, looked up from her programme and observed to her companion: "It's alright, dear, it's no one we know!"

Images: Brian Sibley, © 2009 uploaded via flickr


scb said...

I shall be chortling about the "Plinth Philip or Plinth Charles" for quite some time today!

I had read about the Trafalgar Square Plinth project, and it's great to hear more about it firsthand. Glad your friend's plinth-stint went well.

As for the less imaginative among the plinth-sitters, Mobile-Phone-Use-On-A-Plinth is not quite my idea of performance art.

(Just in passing, I doubt that I ever have, nor, likely will I ever again, type the word "plinth" so many times in one short period of time.)

And after all that, I was rather hoping for a more interesting word verification than INGAM, which is simply not calling any witticisms to mind. None whatsoever.

SharonM said...

What lovely anecdotes - thanks for yet again bringing a smile to my face.

As for the plinth artists - I should imagine some people think that they are just taking the pith.

Unknown said...

Lovely... and lovely pictures. We live in the best city in the world!

Good Dog said...

The plinth project is quite odd. A friend who is an opera singer was part of it a week or so back. Of course I forgot and had to look through the website archives.

The bizarre thing was the conductor sat on the plinth shouting instructions through a bullhorn while the orchestra and singers stood in front of him in the square, where there were no directional microphones set up.

Still, it gives foreign tourists the opportunity to wander past, shake their heads, and mutter something about the eccentricities of the English.

Brian Sibley said...

What's interesting, as the project goes on, the public are becoming less tolerant of those who either do nothing or (like the pillock I was watching a moment ago) exclusively address the web camera and ignore the audience in Trafalgar Square.

In comparison, I reckon statues have a petty cushy time of it!!

Boll Weavil said...

cracking pix grommit !
....hmm we all use that expression now but is it part of the original dialogue that you wrote that stayed in the final production ????

Brian Sibley said...

Alas, I cannot claim any credit for that immortal line: it was first used in Nick's debut Wallace & Gromit film, A Grand Day Out.