What does this space know?

Some thoughts from Rupert Meese

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Archive for the ‘Plinth’ Category

Relating to the 4th plinth experience

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.


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What was it like up there?

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 7, 2009

So, I put myself there in the public gaze for an hour on the 4th plinth.  I didn’t know that the experience would be so hard to make sense of. My instinctive response is silence, to withdraw from it for a time, and I’m also driven to write, so here is what happened as best as I am able to tell it.

On the plinth

I checked in at the One and Other reception at 2:30 ninety minutes before I was due to take my place on the plinth.  Reception is a portacabin on the opposite side of Trafalgar Square to the plinth.  I opened the door to a buzz of activity and a crowd of assistants in red and white ‘One and Other’ tea shirts.  I got the friendliest and most  attentive welcome along with the invitation to make myself at home among the organized chaos.   I was photographed and interviewed by a charming assistant, given a cup of tea, a safety briefing and lots of words of encouragement.  The staff all seemed really enthusiastic about the project.  Antony Gormley came and went, emitting precise and unequivocal instructions on camera angles, procedure and so on and making sure that everything was as he wanted it.

Around quarter to 4 I got ready.  This consisted of me getting rid of my phone, watch and junk from my pockets.  My intention being to be there without any kind of prop or distraction, nothing to fiddle with, just to be there.  I refused the radio microphone for the same reason.  The radio mic was an option to allow those watching the internet feed to hear me.  I wasn’t planning on saying anything at all really.  At around ten to four the wind picked up, the sky turned grey, rain started and the team got motherly.  Did I have an umbrella, a rain coat, a warm top?  It was cold up there, and so on.  It was very sweet.   Until then, and in line with my principle of no props, I had been planning on going up wearing only a shorts and a shirt, on the principle that it was a summer day and if it rained I’d get wet, and that would be fine.  I like to walk and I know weather.  More importantly I know that I can adjust my blood flow to be comfortable in a cold wind, and I can adjust my heat production and metabolism to dry out in the wet and be well in the cold.  However, constant rain might not be nice, so I grabbed my umbrella and then capitulated and put on my wool over shirt.  We went out the the JCB Cherry Picker behind the cabin and climbed in to the cage that was to lift me to the top of the plinth.  My sense of wonder started the moment the cage lifted about a foot from the floor and the JCB started to trundled slowly around the corner and towards the plinth.  The whole thing filled me with joy, like being a kid and getting to ride on a fire engine.  The JCB moved through the crowd, people smiled or looked disinterested or unimpressed as they liked.  I was beaming as the cage lifted up, past the current plinthian – a man in the panda suit with his phone number on a board.   high above the plinth, forward and then down to land on the edge.  The door opened I exchanged good wishes with the panda suit man, he stepped in, I stepped out, and I was there on top of the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square being a piece of Antony Gormley artwork.

To be continued…

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Anyone know how to shave?

Posted by Rupert Meese on June 23, 2009

I’m not too worried about what to wear (perhaps I should be more), what  to take up to the plinth or what to do when I’m up there, but I could do with learning how to shave.  What is everyone else doing when they get a nice smooth even shave on neck and under the chin.  For a good 30 years I must have been doing something wrong because I always end up with a bunch of whiskers in unkempt patches on either side of my neck that lie flat and simply will not be shaved away.  It reminds me of Eddy Izzard’s sketch about the Ho-du-du lawn mower – the old fashioned kind you push along while it goes ‘Ho-du-du, Ho-du-du” and the grass just says “Oh for god’s sake” and lies flat for a bit. It even sounds like that when I shave.

I fear if I go up on the plinth like that I’m going to look like a hobo.  Mind you, that implies I look like a hobo the rest of my days. Must be time to do something about it.  So if anyone out there knows how to shave, please leave a comment and let me know!

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What will you do?

Posted by Rupert Meese on June 16, 2009

My e-mail arrived and I’m down, due to stand on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square from 4 ’till 5pm on Monday July 6th.  I discover later that this is the first day of Antony Gormley’s piece.

One and Other

What will you do on the Plinth?

This is a question which worries me.  “What will you do?”!  Perhaps I’ve missed the point.

Antony Gormley first came into my awareness through the British comedy ‘Purely Belter’.  The Angel of the North figured prominently and I got that ‘Wow’ feeling I’m sure many people got when first seeing that sculpture.  Particularly when the boys in the film sat right up close to the angel’s feet:  ‘You can’t really do that, though, can you?”,  “I mean it’s just a film thing right?”.  “No, you can go right up to it” (My mum).  “Really, then I want to see that”.

It took a few years before I made it.  I had spent the weekend walking in the hills in the lake district.  Really connecting with my physical nature and that of the world:  Long, steep climb.  Another step, can I do another step? “yes”.  Painful, tired.  What kind of pain?  What exactly hurts?  Ah, actually I quite like that feeling – the feeling of a body doing what it’s designed to do.  Can I survive here? “Yes, all day, easily”, good.  On the top now, cold, bitter wind, rain.  Can I survive here?  “Only for a few of hours”, that’ll be fine.  I’ll walk quicker.  Back down into the valley now, shelter, warmth.  Stand still, arms out, feeling the air move around me, sun warming, wind cool as it drys.

Later I head for the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  I wanted to see this country, I’d got to forty something without having seen a great deal and I wanted to fill in the gaps.  I knew Lindisfarne would be a magical place.  I also knew I would pass the Angel of the North traveling up the A1.

I looked out for it on the way and, of course, simply would not drive past without stopping.  When the sculpture came into view it took a good degree of will power to keep enough attention on the road to be safe.  I followed the slip road around, parked close and walked up, filled with awe and wonder.  There I stood at the feet of the Angel of the North and wept.

Angel of the North

It wasn’t just the expanse of the wings, the maleness of the construction or the enormous sense of protective care that flows from the massive structure that moved me, it was the poise.  The way in which the leaning forward was held balanced in those calf muscles. The angle of the foot to the leg at the ankle is perfect in a way that defies expression.  The whole thing is simply beautiful and I am in awe.

When I heard about Antony Gormley’s plans for the 4th plinth: to take ordinary folk and put them there, on the plinth in Trafalgar Square, 2,400 people, an hour each, it made perfect sense.  A beautiful celebration of the perfection and beauty in what is ordinary and all around us.  In my profession as a symbolic modeller, it is what I see over and over again.  Amazing people dealing in amazing ways with life as they’ve found it.  Sometimes you have to look carefully to see it clearly, but it is there in everyone.

And how hard, to be there on the plinth!  To stand there in the public gaze for an hour and simply be, no perfection or ideal, but simply as a flawed human being.  Tough, sure, but I couldn’t think of anything better.  Like my daughter said “who wouldn’t want to.  Can you sign me up?”

So, now I’m a little unnerved. I’d considered myself to be a foot soldier in the service of making art of the ordinary.  Part of a very British Wabi-Sabi.  However, it seems that the idea that on the plinth  we could “do whatever we wanted so long as it is legal” has taken hold and transformed into the idea that we, “the plinthers”, should do something.  Frankly I think it’s a little bit crass, the fourth plinth as a stage.  Sculpture as a performance.  For one thing a performance is a way of keeping separate, keeping a distance, where as, to me, sculpture is about intimacy, about being able to take the time to notice nuance.  The force of a performance radiating outwards runs counter to the more organic ebb and flow of the presence of a sculpture and the attention of it’s observers.

I don’t have much choice in any case, I have no talent worthy of performing, and am tremendously admiring of those that do.

So, what do I intend to do?  Well I’m not sure how to say this other than to be there in the moment, open to the experience.  Perhaps it will be like being an animal in a zoo, perhaps something much more wondrous.  I imagine myself silent.  This seems fitting for a sculpture and it reminds me of the sense of connectedness and energy in Biodanza – the Brazilian dance therapy in which silence acts as a conduit for a different kind of connection with people.

And what will this actually mean?  I can’t really know the answer to that until it’s done.  Will people jeer?  Demand that I do something?  I hope not, but quite possibly?  How will I react?  I don’t know, by being frightened perhaps, uncomfortable almost certainly.  I’m generally discomforted by attention and I’m quite likely to look like a Susan Boyle with no voice.  I know attention doesn’t always bring out the best in me, so perhaps there’s danger there.

One time I was standing in the cockpit of my tiny and ancient West Wight Potter, tiller in hand, feeling boat interplay with the current through the rudder, motor strumming steadily.  I’d been like this, on the river, for three days and was starting to feel connected.  Along the bank a girl came running and skipping, she must have been five or six years old.  She saw me in my little boat coming up the river and stopped dead in her tracks, staring open mouthed.  I waved.  “I love you” she yelled back at the top of her voice.  It touched my heart.  How incredibly sweet.  Then as I motored on she ran along the bank.  “I love you”,”I love you” she yelled after me.  I waved again and then, to my shame, out of embarrassment, I pretended not to hear her as she ran on and on still calling out to me, getting further and further behind.  “The noise of the engine you know”.  If I was a better man I know I would have found a response that added to the beauty of the world for that girl in that situation.

So, for being there on the plinth, open to the moment and as authentic as I’m able. Will it be a success?  Will anyone know or care? Will it make good art?  Good entertainment?  I have no idea, but I guess the chance to smile and wave at an open mouthed toddler from a twelve foot plinth is enough for me.

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