Post Studio Art Practical

The Fourth Plinth

Whilst researching part 1 it became apparent that much of Post Studio Art is actually carried out in the studio. The designs for the wrapping of things by Christo and Jeanne Claude, the sketch that Damien Hirst shows to his fabricators to explain to them what he wants them to create and the computer mock-ups for Mark Wallinger’s White Horse were all created in the Studio.

Probably this is the way that it always was; Michelangelo didn’t create the design for the Sistine Chapel ceiling standing on a scaffold, the creative thought process is remote from the actual Post Studio Art. Once you know that you want to paint a bison on the wall you need to find a flat enough part of the cave where you can fit it in, which may not be in the same place as that where you make the paint.

What is necessary though is research and planning to ensure that the end result is feasible and will happily sit in the required location and to deal with other considerations such as health and safety, planning permission, structural stability and winning the contest that are also just as remote from the artist’s studio.

It is a different thing entirely from drawing a line in the sand that will be removed by the incoming tide to sculpting metal figures with a solid foundation that will withstand the ravages of the sea over time as Gormley did, it involves an entirely different skill set.

Many of the commissions for art of this scale begin by invitation only, one such example being the commission for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Probably to be invited you could come up with a good enough creative idea and then write to members of the selecting Committee asking to be included in the long list of invitees.

The pdf of the invitation pack for artists from the last competition is readily available on the internet which gives a good indication of some of the non artistic problems that need to be grappled with in a successful application. ( What it does not give are the actual dimensions of the plinth, so the first step concerns a site visit to establish the scale of the work and to get the feel of the surrounding environment so that you can see how your proposal would fit in with the surroundings.

I chose a warm Saturday in June to do my initial research, combining my visit with a trip to the National Gallery to see the Sorolla exhibition. The current incumbent on the fourth plinth is The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz. That the footprint of The Lamassu is the same as the fourth plinth probably has something to do with the persistence of architectural styles over the centuries, because of its orientation, The Lamassu is guarding the exit from rather than the entrance to Trafalgar Square as it would have been thousands of years ago. This can be easily checked out by visiting the nearby British Museum where correctly mounted Lamassu are on display. The Lamassu in Trafalgar square is the wrong half of a pair and even then would need to be rotated 180 degrees to guard the entrance rather than the exit.

Leaving all that aside, the Lamassu wasn’t attracting much attention from the passing tourists for two reasons, firstly the street theatre on the forecourt of the National Gallery was particularly engaging and secondly people as a rule do not look up. The other three plinths on Trafalgar Square suffer the same fate. Generally people only look up when directed to do so as in “Here is Nelsons Column/Giotto’s Bell Tower/The Leaning Tower of Pisa/The Angel of the North/a firework display, look up and see how magnificent it is” or when there is movement above them such as a helicopter or an aeroplane or even a bird.

I measured the size of the fourth plinth by measuring the size of one of the steps around it using the length of my foot and adding a few fingers and then counting the steps not 100% accurate but as near as makes no difference so that I would know the scale of the final proposal, I made a rough sketch of my observations for later use. I also took photographs to envisage how a proposal would look against the background of the National Gallery and Canada House and indeed Trafalgar Square itself before returning to the studio to do the creative thinking part.

As can be seen from the sketch, the top of the plinth is approximately 3.9m by 1.8 meters. The proposal needs to incorporate movement so that it will attract the casual viewers attention and it needs to be either black or of another colour that allows it to stand out from its surroundings. That is three pretty big decisions out of the way, on with the creativity.

Since beginning to study part 3 of this course I became concerned about the wrapping business in the way that people are wrapping their rubbish in plastic bags and leaving them on street corners in a graffiti-like emulation of Christo and Jean Claude. The rubbish is foul enough, but the plastic bags, unless they are carefully monitored, migrate to the sea where they cause havoc to the creatures of the sea.

From recent news reports there is a new deadly version of plastic bags called micro plastic, all fish in the sea have micro plastic in their stomachs and where it not for the fact that fish are gutted we too would have micro plastic in our stomachs. The micro plastic seems, from the news reports, to be a relatively new area of study, who knows how this particular tragedy will unfold; only time will tell.

I thought about the fish having plastic inside of them and of the fish having plastic wrapped around the outside of them and I connected this with Trafalgar Square being synonymous with Britain’s relationship with the seas. I settled on the dolphin for two reasons: firstly, the cast Iron lamp posts at the side of the Thames all feature dolphins and secondly the bronze sculptures in the fountains in Trafalgar Square also feature dolphins, the dolphin is one of London’s historical links to the sea and the plastic bag is one of London’s current links to the sea.

Plastic needs to feature big in the sculpture so I thought that the dolphins could have an outer skin of black plastic coated wire mesh and be stuffed with plastic bags that would show through the mesh to signify the micro plastics inside the dolphins.

There will be four dolphins leaping out of the top of the plinth in various stages of leap, one for each side of the plinth. To provide movement, to attract the eye of the passersby, where the dolphins break through the top of the plinth loose strips of plastic would be fixed to flutter in the breeze.

The creative idea is almost fully formed now and to make it totally clear I have attached my Written Statement of Concept for the stage 1 selection process of the competition.

Bibliography (2016) The Fourth Plinth: Artist information pack. At: accessed 1 July 2019