So, I was on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of One and Other last night. You all know this, because I’ve done nothing but bang on about it for the last week or so. What you may not know is that before people go up on the plinth, they are photographed and an interview with them is recorded, and I am no exception. The interviewer asked a number of questions about basically who I am, what I am doing with my life, what my hopes for the future were, and what I hoped to get out of my time on the plinth. Who I am, and my hopes for the future proved remarkably tricky. I think I may have muttered something vague about hoping to take more photos, and maybe one day even earn a bit of money from them. Really, I have no idea who I am, what I’m doing, or what I want out of life.
What I wanted from the plinth, though, that I was ready for.
I am a Londoner. It was one of the three words I used to describe myself on my profile on the One and Other website. I am also a terribly pretentious bastard. So I trotted out all the rubbish you’d expect, about getting the public involved in art, being connected to London, and that sort of thing. Said that while I know it’s hardly charity work, or anything worthwhile like that, it’s a little way of giving something back to the city I love. Blah blah blah, so far so boring.
That’s all by way of preamble. Because, you see, in all the media write ups, or blog and twitter commentary, whether they’re praising the project as a fantastic way to get the public involved in art, or damning it as revealing the banality of the British public, I have yet to see any one that stopped stroking their chin long enough to talking about what it’s like to be up there. So here goes.
I often say that I love London, and I joke about the fact that I don’t leave it much. This isn’t just a figure of speech. It’s not just a joke. I am absolutely head-over-heels besotted with the place I live. Even on the bad days, when it’s 35 degrees on the tube at rush hour, and I’m pressed up against a bloke who thinks that personal hygiene is something for girls and sissies, and the driver comes over the loudspeaker to tell us that someone’s just jumped under the train ahead, and we’re stuck here for the next half hour, there is still nowhere else I would rather be. I stand there, the sweat trickling down my back, and all I can think is “only in London do you get shit like this” and I smile, and relax, and I feel better. I am a full-on hopeless case for London, its sights, sounds and smells, its past, present and future. London is the place where the magic fucking happens.
And you can all stop looking at me like that, because I can now prove it.
Here’s the thing that the write ups of the plinth don’t tell you. It’s fun. It’s a little slice of sheer bloody London magic. There is nowhere else in the world where a night like I had last night could have happened.
I expected to get up there with my camera and tripod, and arse about for an hour. That’s exactly what I did. In any circumstance, arsing around with my camera for an hour makes me happy. I expected some of my family and friends to turn up, and they did. In any circumstance, my family and friends make me happy.
I am groping for the words to describe it. “Greater than the sum of it’s parts” is meaningless if I can’t adequately convey the parts.
So: there I am, a bloke in a white suit, standing spotlit in the middle of London on a summer night, clutching a camera. This was the least important part of the night – the silly outfit, and what I was doing didn’t matter very much to me. The absolute joy for me was seeing my friends turn up, whether they were in their regular clothes, or in a variety of weird and wonderful outfits, watching people who I know hadn’t met before, or who had only met in passing talking to one another and laughing, or getting texts, phone calls, and yes, twitter messages from friends who were watching around the world, watching the conversation that happened around the fact that I was on the plinth. That sounds kind of egotistical, I know, but it’s not the sense I mean it in – I’m not someone who is entirely comfortable being the centre of attention – but passing messages from London to Toronto was not something I’ll forget in a hurry. There simply was a really marvellously warm and friendly vibe about the whole experience – not just from my friends, but from the members of the public who were passing by who got involved, posing for photos and shouting up questions and comments – there was a lot of smiling and laughing going on in Trafalgar Square last night. Like I said: a slice of pure London magic.
I had hoped to come down from the plinth with a few good photos, and maybe some new thoughts on London and life in general. I come down with all of those things, but I did not expect to come off the plinth thinking “that was fun, I want to do it again”. And yet that’s exactly what I did.
So the next time you see someone spouting off about how the people up there are boring, or how the project isn’t really art, or anything like that, tell ‘em to fuck off. The experience made me think, and was emotionally affecting (it may not have been deep, but if it raised a smile, then that counts) not just for me, but for the other people in the square, and watching over the internet (at least to judge by the response I had had from friends), and if that’s not Art, I don’t sodding know what is.
Well bloody done, Anthony Gormley. And thank you for the opportunity. And, at risk of turning this into some ghastly parody of an acceptance speech, thanks to all the people at Artichoke, who made it happen, and most especially thank you to all my family and friends who turned up in person or on the internet, because it was absolutely you lot who made it a thing worth doing, and if I have learned nothing else from from last night, then I have been reminded how fortunate I am to know you all.