Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Long Post About Conceptual Art

Have you ever been to London? If so then maybe you have been to Trafalgar Square. It has a statue of Lord Nelson on top of a pillar, and it also has some other statues there. The other statues are on plinths, as is often the case with statues. The square has four plinths, so you would think that there would be four statues – but no. Only three of the plinths have permanent statues. The fourth plinth lies vacant, or is used for temporary exhibits.

At the moment, the fourth plinth is hosting Antony Gormley's One and Other. Gormley is perhaps best known for monumental wrought iron sculptures like The Angel of the North, but One and Other is different. Gormley has basically let random punters apply to appear for an hour on plinth and do… whatever they want.

One of my pals from the internet got a slot on the plinth and decided that what she was going to do was read out letters from people. I decided to send a letter to Lord Nelson, and she read it out, which was very exciting – I feel like I am a foot soldier in conceptual art history.

I happened, coincidentally, to be in London on the day Tricia was plinthing, and made it along to see her read many other letters (semi-accidentally missing my own being read). It was an interesting business. Some of the other letters were very impressive. One of the most striking being one that some guy wrote about his estranged parents (they have disowned him for repudiating their religion), a powerful and affecting piece of writing. In complete contrast, I also loved the letter written by some fellow to a local pub, complaining about the unsatisfying meal he received from them. She also read a letter from that blog that reprints famous letters from the past (can't find the URL for this, can anyone help?).

So yes, deadly fun. Over the time I was in the big smoke, I drifted over to the Fourth Plinth a couple of times, and it was very striking how far above the average Tricia was in her endeavours. The other plinthers seemed generally not to really have any idea what they were doing up there, just passing the time waving at their friends or taking photographs. This does of course beg the question of what I would do if I was up there. Mmmm. I suppose one obvious thing would be to adopt a succession of human statue poses.

Anyway, should you want to watch Tricia reading her letters, you can do so here, and you can watch random other people plinthing here. You can also look at more of my Trafalgar Square pictures here. If for some reason you want to read my own letter to Lord Nelson, scroll on.

"To: Lord Horatio Nelson


"I am writing to you care of Miss Stubberfield, the lady you should see in the square below you reading this letter to you. I must confess to having had certain difficulties finding an appropriate subject for correspondence to you, and for finding the best words to use. I was going to discuss the differing sentiments towards you felt by people in this country and my own (Ireland), drawing a contrast between the relative fortunes of your great column here and the pillar upon which you once stood in the main street of my country's capital. However, a discussion in that area seemed to yield no great insights, for it is hardly surprising that Irishmen and women are less than fond of a man whose signal victory over Napoleon's fleet arguably served to bind Ireland to England for another hundred years.

"Instead, perhaps, it would be better to discuss a more human subject, and one closer to your own personage. No one can doubt the great service that you gave your country. We all know that your greatest victory was also your last, that you led your fleet against the enemy in a manner calculated to destroy them utterly while at the same time exposing you to mortal peril. But while your last battle saw you lose your life, we should remember that in earlier engagements you suffered various other losses. As you lost more of your body in each battle, you must surely have known that sooner or later an engagement with the enemy would claim your life. At Trafalgar, did you calculate in advance that your audacious plan would see your greatest victory crowned with your own life blood?

"That someone should choose glory at the price of their own death is something very alien to me. More credible is the idea that someone would choose to die for some great ideal. Was that the case with you? The standard picture is that you died for England (or Britain, or King and Country, whatever). If so, what were you dying for? A land of rotten boroughs and semi-feudal deference to the gentry and nobility, but in a land where creeping industrialisation was creating new forms of misery and despair – was that your England?

"These are unanswerable questions – even if you were able to reply to this letter I suspect that you would find it difficult to explain your own motivations. Still, I would love to know whether, as you lay dying, did you feel that your death was worth the glory you had won or the nation you had saved, or did you silently curse the roll of the cosmic dice that had seen you take a fatal wound?

"I remain,

"your obedient servant.

"Ian Moore, esq."


rener said...

That web site:

rener said...

Oh wait, forgot tags: