One & Other: But is I Art?


As the time for my own turn on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square approaches, I’ll add the occasional post on the subject here. You can catch up with all of my updates with this link.

Announcing the first day of the Antony Gormley’s One & Other, which, for the unaware, puts members of the public atop the Fourth Plinth for an hour each, 24 hours a day for 100 days, Sky News asked the headline question: “Is it art, or just a highbrow Big Brother?” It’s a tired refrain by now. The question of whether or not something is art is such a blind alley: what it really seems to ask is “what is art?” or worse, “why isn’t it speaking directly to me?” That there is disagreement over whether something is a worthwhile piece of art should never be a surprise. It should probably be a requirement.

I don’t know if Sky News ever communicates with Sky Arts, but if One & Other is a “highbrow Big Brother” (i.e. highbrow because none of the participants have been manouevred into positions where there’s an increased chance that they’ll punch or shag each other), then Sky must bear some of the responsibility. What started out as a intervention by the ordinary into the ceremonial, dragging and dropping people from their habitual environment into the most public of spaces, has been turned into rolling news to be examined from every angle, tweeted about and photographed. Their weekly round-up of the “best of the plinth” suggests an attempt to turn it into a competition, with each plinther compelled to be more entertaining or eye-catching than the last.

Although I’ve dipped into the live feed from the Plinth and found it occasionally compelling, even when “nothing” (slang term for moments where people stop dancing or shouting through a megaphone) is happening, it has raised the question for me of where the “space” of the plinth is. Is it a spontaneous relationship between the material reality of the plinth and the people passing by, an ephemeral, unrepeatable performance or a hypermediated spectacle that can be paused, rewound, re-examined and catalogued? I can’t help feeling that the physical space of the plinth is affected by its parallel existence in multiple “virtual” spaces around the world, though this doesn’t have to be a negative effect. This morning I enjoyed Michelle, who took a very contemplative approach. To many observers, I suppose she “did nothing” or “just stood there”, for the hour, but she seemed to be having a serene, private moment in front of all those cameras. And surely that’s fascination enough, right?

Having said all that, the sight of Gerald dressed in a Godzilla suit playing swingball and stomping on a cardboard Houses of Parliament at 8am made me smile for almost a full hour. I think it was the mixture of personal, self-absorbed enjoyment and focus on the chance to play around, and the awareness of a very public spectacle that made it completely charming. If you have to ask whether or not its art, then please adjust your definition of art.

10 thoughts on “One & Other: But is I Art?

  1. Thanks for your post. It’s been interesting to see what happens on the Fourth Plinth on Gormley’s watch and what that says about the changing nature of public art. I for one, find it a refreshing break from all the bronze portraits that are all too familiar and found in cities worldwide. If the opportunity to be on the plinth turns into a competition, then isn’t that an accurate reflection of the world we live in?

  2. Certainly, if it got squeezed into the shape of another “reality TV” format, it would say something definite about the contemporary desire to use multimedia platforms to impose narrative order on potential chaos. I’m happy for One & Other to be a true experiment, and to go in any direction: that’s why I’m perturbed by demands that it must entertain (especially if that entertainment is defined in very narrow terms). What I mean to say is that the tight formatting of the official TV coverage by the Plinth’s sponsors might already have defined some of the directions in which the project can go, rather than providing a totally free platform.

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  6. Four years later, and I still remember Gerald Chong’s Godzilla. I found your blog when writing my own post about 2013’s Hahn/Cock sculpture on the Fourth Plinth. So my post now has a link to this one.

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