What does this space know?

Some thoughts from Rupert Meese

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Man without a Reason

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 7, 2009

The JCB pulled away and there I was, left alone on the plinth.  I was filled with a strange sense of something hovering between wonder, delight and horror.  Wonder and delight at the beautiful newness and strangeness of the situation, and horror at the already building expectation that I should do something, that I was about to spend the next hour in uneasy defiance of.  I hadn’t really considered the crowd.  Not myself in relation to all of those people in any case.  Choosing to worry about them later I went back to my awe and wonder at being there, looking from this unique perspective around at Nelson’s column, the National Gallery, the fountains, the people.  I share my sense of wonder with them, but not many really want it.


My attention is drawn to the other figures on the other three plinths.  Bronze, flowing robes, horseback, I became aware of my own scale in relation to them. Very small.  All of this makes me feel insignificant.  Wonder is about gone now, and I see what’s going on in the crowd.  People look up, smile and wave and I do too.  I say crowd but I’m attentive and refuse to mistake the people there for a crowd as if they were a single entity rather than many individuals.  It’s one thing this perspective from the plinth helps to highlight.  I see people milling around, through the square, at the base of the plinth, moving, standing talking, waiting.  I’m distant enough to see the movements and patterns in the crowd and I’m close enough so that I can see everyone clearly and, when anyone looks my way, my situation is singular enough so that I know if they are looking at me.   Probably about one in ten, one in twenty people I make an easy connection with.  Things seem to make sense to these people: I’m there on the plinth – we’re told it’s art, and they can view me and find anything they’d like in it.  We exchange a look, a smile or a wave.

Smaller than a lampRain

There are another 5% for whom this does not make sense.  The expressions on their faces let me know in quite a colourful range.  I see contempt, dissatisfaction, hostility.  I’m expecting this and hold myself steady.  It’s not long before the first shout of “Do Something”.  I look down, smile, shrug – shout “Do you want a little dance?”.  I’m magnanimous and understanding.  The dissatisfied move away to be replaced by others, always it seemed from the corner above the square where they congregated to be better able to share their disapproval with me.  There’s an expression which sums it up – “You can afford to be generous.”  I could, and each time it cost me.  Each tender message of inadequacy projected up from the disoriented or hard done to was like a bite from my bearing.  Although I could afford it I had started to feel like one of the Antony Gormley figures made from so few ball bearings that they seemed on immanent verge of collapse.  I checked out the feeling and wondered about going with it.  Seeing what kind of collapse that would be.  I had, after all, promised  authenticity.  Structural integrity was still in tact however, and I carried on like a flak damaged Lancaster.  I think this is maybe where the art is.  Without anyone there it would have been easy to spend the hour playing, exploring the space, being in the wind and rain. What’s it like if I sit right in the corner?  Where’s the middle?  What does it feel like if I jump really far?  But people were there, and I was there in relation to them.  And no of us really understood what that relationship was.  Why was I up there? What did it mean to be elevated to that position in relation to everyone else?  “What was my point” as someone shouted from a car.  The discomfort of that ambiguity seemed to make some angry and dissatisfied.  Perhaps I did my bit by not having a point, not making it easy, distracting us all with entertainment.  I was there as the man without a reason.  No performance, no cause, just there, up high, happy to be unworthy.  With all of this, what endures is that it was a wonderful experience and a great privilege to be there, and I am grateful for the help and support of everyone who helped make it what it was.

P1010187In the National Portrait Gallery

Maybe I’ll write later about how I cost Antony Gormley a better slot on the evening news by refusing the insistent instruction of a snake eyed lady, clearly accustomed to getting her own way, and a round man in the square discreetly and equally insistently waving his umbrella while hoping to inspire me into a “Singing in the Rain” routine.  It makes “nicer art” apparently.


3 Responses to “Man without a Reason”

  1. suzie said

    yeah, yeah. tell us about that too. And you’re in the nationals. I’ve got copies of the Times and the Guardian. DOn’t know aobut an others but there’s bound to be more at the weekend.

  2. Hi Rupert! Your observations on your elevated experience rather moving.
    “What’s the point?” is, I guess, the great existential question (along with “What’s it all about, Alfie?”).

    Your reflections, as you stood there, in the face of the wind, rain, sun, concerns or consternation of the nearby maddening crowd, struck a cord in me, and set me apondering.

    As a result of your openness and authenticity, I will go to Trafalger Square and gaze upon other enplinthed sentinals with a greater sense of wonder, delight and appreciation than I might otherwise have done.

    Go well


  3. lakritze said

    I start every day by watching the plinth, at about five to six o’clock in the morning. I enjoy it when people don’t do much and have a lot of respect for people who dare not to entertain.
    I like your account of being a work of art — thank you for not being a jukebox, Britain’s got Talent or YouTube.

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