London is perhaps one of the most famous cities in the entire world. Tourists flock to it from all over the world. It’s a place filled with history, stories of gruesome murderers, tales of past kings and queens, great fires and so many fantastic works of fiction from people like Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J. K. Rowling that have helped bring a certain magic to the place that people have come to adore. It’s also a place that showcases some of worlds most revered art, its countless museums show off everything from Monet to Van Gough, contemporary, modern, even street art it can all be found here, but perhaps its most intriguing spot sits not in its museums and galleries but actually on the corner of one of its most notable landmarks. I’m talking about the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, home to Nelsons Column.
Initially the column was intended to be the site of an equestrian statue of William IV similar to the statue of George IV (his brother) sat on the north eastern plinth. Due to insufficient funds the statue was never built and therefore had sat bare since being built in 1841 and many debates followed on what would should be placed there instead. Much later in 1998 three contemporary styles sculptures were commissioned by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA for short) in order to be temporarily displayed there. This turned out to be a success and it wasn’t long until Sir John Mortimer was commissioned by government to produce a report on the project which recommended that the plinth should continue to be used as a host for temporary artworks in a rolling programme and was officially commissioned in 2005.
Since then we have seen a variety of different artworks have adorned the plinth, many of these being sculptures that perhaps fit the theme of Nelsons Column such as ‘Nelsons Ship in a Bottle’, which as the title suggests was a replica of the HMS Victory inside a 4.7 m long bottle. Some had fun with the concept like the statue titles ‘Powerless Structures, Fig. 101’ which showed a young boy riding a rocking horse, built to contrast the statues around it. The current statue sitting on the plinth makes more of a political statement, it is titles ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ and is a replica of a lamassu sculpture that once stood guard at the Gate of Nineveh but was unfortunately destroyed by Isis in 2015. The statue is made entirely of date syrup cans from Iraq which also represents the overall destruction of the country’s date industry as well as its history.
It is believed that one day the plinth will house a statue of Elizabeth II after her death, until then though there are no plans for this project to cease. The fourth plinth is an excellent example of how cities can showcase art to benefit the community, there is no better example of this than the Fourth Plinth School Awards, these engage primary and secondary school students and use the works displayed on the plinth to help them think creatively. Long live the fourth plinth art project!