Opinion

What The Fourth Plinth Art Says About London

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 6 months ago
What The Fourth Plinth Art Says About London

As one of the most recognisable public gathering places in London, Trafalgar Square is a focal point for citizens and visitors. What's atop the plinth in the north east corner is akin to a totem — it's a reminder to people living here of our common values and to visitors it's a statement of the city's ethos.

So what message are the next two commissions conveying about us?

The two winners - Michael Rakowitz (left) and Heather Phillipson (right). Courtesy Fourth Plinth Commission

A global city

First to top the plinth will be Michael Rakowitz's replica of a sculpture of Lamassu, an Assyrian winged bull deity which stood in Mosul from 700BC until it was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. It will be made from date syrup cans — an Iraqi industry destroyed by war.

It's a big-up yours to ISIS, and the message is loud and clear: they may be trying to destroy history, but we won't let it be forgotten. It's a statement of London's global city credentials; we're aware of and care about what's going on in the wider world, it says. Iraq's loss is ours too.

In the artist's words:

I see this work as a ghost of the original, and as a placeholder for those human lives that cannot be reconstructed, that are still searching for sanctuary

It's an apt companion piece to the current Fourth Plinth artwork, David Shrigley's elongated thumbs up, Really Good. Shrigley's work seems to say that horrible things are happening in the world, but it's all going to be OK. Rakowitz's deity acknowledges these horrible things, and ensures we don't forget.

The National Gallery can appear intimidating. Photo: M. Sebregts

We're being watched

Though it may not look it at first glance, Heather Phillipson's work THE END, is also highly political. The sugary sweet cream and cherry is in contrast to the menacing prevalence of drones in our skies, and the safety and privacy issues that raises.

The drone atop the cherry will constantly film Trafalgar Square, reminding us London is one of the most surveilled cities in the world. The 24/7 filming forces us to remember we’re always being watched and, as more drones buzz about the sky, this will lead to even more surveillance.

As Londoners we often put this idea to the back of our minds, and this wry reminder is a cheeky prod at the things we'd rather not think about.

David Shrigley's Really Good. Photo: Dave McGowan

What do you think of the next Fourth Plinth commissions? Let us know in the comments

Last Updated 27 March 2017

Jennifer Iles

It's a "Lamassu" - not a "Lassamu" !

Bobby Jenkins

I think this whole project for the empty plinth has been truly inspiring and thought provoking. I may not have liked every one but It's made me make the effort to come and see them and sent me away with food for thought. Long may it continue.