I am stood on a plinth in the middle of London’s Trafalgar Square. To my right two martial artists in full body armour click their escrima sticks together and chuckle behind their face masks. To my left a member of the UK’s only all-girl boy band, North Star, shares 90s celebrity gossip (by ‘eck that Shannen Dohertry is incorrigible) and Michael Jackson song lyrics from a well-preserved copy of Smash Hits. In front of me a heaving gaggle of press snapped away with their cameras, throwing out occupations to turn faces towards lenses. “Knitting girl! Knitting girl!” one of them shouts, clicking away. I turn my face towards his lens and crack a smile of faint disbelief.
Yesterday morning I was art. It was all the fault of Mr Antony Gormley, whose cast-iron sculptures scared the bejesus out of half of London in 2007 by peering down from South Bank rooftops like rusty angels of death.
Gormley won the honour of having the next art installation to perch atop Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. His One & Other project will be a living sculpture, in which 2400 ordinary folks will have an hour each on the plinth over 100 days.
It began rather damp and nervously. I arrived at the ungodly (for a freelancer) hour of 8.30am, with my trusty photographer Tom ‘Mr Tea’ Lee. It was a bring your own plinth occassion and I had brought my own plinth. A footstool that had been in my family for over 20 years, covered lovingly in knitting from the Stitch and Bitch London ladies (thanks Tina, Marion and Linda).
The Fourth Plinth area was severely lacking in eccentric individuals when I got there. A niggling worry began at the back of my tiny mind. What if I were the only person unhinged enough to respond to an email that asks you to bring your own plinth to Trafalgar Square and stand on it in front of the cameras in the name of British Art. For the time being it was just me, my woolly plinth, my beephones, and me chewing on my lower lip.
But then Where’s Wally arrived and my fears were soothed. He’d even made his own hair out of bits of cardboard.
Highlights of my morning:
Bridget, a storyteller swathed in black, who spent the morning in her stockinged feet waving her knitting and her tales across the snapping slew of press below her. The ball of yarn she brought along was dug up from her attic the night before and was over 60 years old. She sidled up to me when she saw my scarforama and whispered “Don’t worry. I’ll try not to steal your knitting thunder” with a conspiratorial smile before getting back to her tale telling. Someone to aspire to.
Lucy, an actor and member of the all-girl boyband Northstar. Her plinth was in the form of a pile of well-preserved issues of Smash Hits, which she flicked idly through as the cameras did their soul stealing.
Fiona and her flute player, a pair of London lady morris dancers. Fiona wore bells on her knees and was so bouncingly full of energy that the tinkling of her knee caps accompanied every camera click.
Tom, an artist who arrived fully clothed and perfectly average-joe looking then seemed to shed his outfit out of nowhere and teetered atop the various plinths they herded us on and off in only a pair of purple pants and his socks. His nakedness was apparently a homage to Caravaggio’s David and Goliath, though I have checked and I don’t see a pair of purple pants anywhere in the painting. Maybe they’re under the toga.
Will, a journalist from The Times who clearly is aptly named for he seemed to have more will than most. He marched into the middle of the photoshoot armed with his notepad and his elegantly classical plinth, and had to be shouted out of the photos by Gormley’s press people. “Oi! Times! Get out of the shot!” one of them roared at him. Antony Gormley seemed quite amused by the whole thing, and apparently told him “I would just like you to be a bit higher,” he said. “More like an idealised object. You ought to go and stand on the roof of your house. That will be better practice.”
A few more highlight from the day in photo form:
I finally met the lovely Laura and her wee bairn from GoLondon in the real world. Fabulous chick with lots of London knowledge.
Diana and Alex are stickfighting World Champions. Cooooooool.
Antony Gormley himself was infinitely tall for my five foot four self. I blinked up at him in the hazy smiley awe that us mortal folks get when faced with someone who is doing great things and still manages to find time to compliment a knitter on her hastily stitched scarf (up till 3am with needles on warp speed the night before).
The actual privilidge of an hour on the plinth is a lottery. Us potential plinthees (over 10,000 applicants so far) won’t know if we get our 60 minutes in the spotlight (or the rain) until June. If I get my plinth time I intend to start a scarf at minute 0 and have it hit the concrete floor of Trafalgar Square (the height of the UK average house) before minute 60.
Gormley says “It’s about people coming together to do something extraordinary and unpredictable.” which, in the humble opinion of this beephone-wearing knitter, is what life is there for. That and cake.
The BBC’s footage of the day: