One of the best things about the British and particularly the English is their sense of humor. They even spell it differently. There is an interesting dichotomy of pride and self deprecation, slapstick and satire with double entendres a given. Therefore it is not surprising that the Fourth Plinth Commission has announced the winners of the next two commissions which provide some humour.
The Fourth Plinth Commission is a project that seeks to place temporary artwork on a statue plinth in Trafalgar Square which is located near the very center of London. With the National Gallery on its north side, Whitehall which leads to the House of Parliament to the South and The Mall which leads to Buckingham Palace to the south-west, it is a center for tourists and Londoner’s alike. Many people like to welcome in the New Year at Trafalgar Square from where you can see Big Ben. So it is a wonderful spot to place art for the people.
The Fourth Plinth project started in 1998 and has provided contemporary art in many guises including Anthony Gormley’s popular “one and other” where every hour, 24hours a day for 100 consecutive days, different people occupied the plinth, with whatever props they needed that they could carry up themselves representing themselves and humanity as a whole. It was a commission that provided great debate and emotion. Doing what art should be doing – being a vehicle for communication.
Currently the plinth is carrying Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle”.
The next two new commissions were won by Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset with a bronze statue of a child on a rocking horse titled “Powerless Strucktures, FIG. 101” and by German artist Katharina Fritsch with a Klein-blue cockerel titled “Cock”. These were chosen by the public and the Commissioning Group chaired by Ekow Eshun, the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Coline Millard of Artinfo UK suggests that the “lightest and most humorous proposals” were chosen “perhaps to cheer Londoners up when drastic cuts in government funding are about to take effect across the board.”
Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculpture is said to be elevating the child to the status of a historical hero, but not commemorating history but hoping for a better future and celebrating expectation and change as well as the heroism of growing up. They suggested that they updated the traditional rocking horse to a more IKEA like version and were mocking the other martial statues on the other plinths.
Fritsch’s sculpture is explained in the press release: “The cockerel is also a symbol for regeneration, awakening and strength and finally, the work refers, in an ironic way, to male-defined British society and thoughts about biological determinism.” However Fritsch does admit to the fact that her deliberate title has caused speakers difficult moments as many try to call it a cockerel to avoid the double entendre. There is also discussion surrounding the symbolism of the rooster which is usually associated with the French which was Horatio Nelson’s nemesis as he was shot and killed by a French sniper during the Battle of Trafalgar against a Franco-Spanish fleet. Some have asked why a German would be allowed to bring a French symbol into the heart of London.
“I wanted to do a sculpture which is on one side serious but also humorous,” she has said “to give an optimistic perspective [without] becoming too severe.”
Whatever the comments and explanations, these commissions have certainly engaged the media and the public in heated debates about art. This has to a good thing.
Read more about the announcement in The Times.