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Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Gormley puts public on pedestal


Antony Gormley explains what his Fourth Plinth piece is all about

By Lawrence Pollard
BBC World Service

Antony Gormley's commission for Trafalgar Square's "empty plinth" will see it occupied for 100 consecutive days, 24 hours a day, by members of the public.

To get an idea of what Antony Gormley is planning for Trafalgar Square try standing on the nearest park bench, parapet or bin.

Instantly people will notice you, grin, look worried, move away or, more alarming still, come over for a closer look.

I tried it for about 30 seconds when I met the sculptor next to the Fourth Plinth and it was an unnerving experience.

Putting real life in the place of idealisation, of the hero, and we have no idea what people will do
Antony Gormley

Standing on a bench a mere couple of feet above passers-by made me feel a bit of a target, a bit of a manic street preacher and frankly, a bit of a fool.

Yet, Mr Gormley wants members of the public to volunteer to stand for a whole hour, 25ft up on top of the plinth in one of Britain's busiest public spaces.

They will of course, be art.

"The idea is very simple, I'm going to take you, and put you up there," he explains to me, pointing up the granite of the plinth.

Life as art

Laughing, he describes the plinth as offering a space somewhere between a go-go dancer's platform and an interrogation suite.

"You stand on the plinth for an hour and you become a symbol, or a metaphor," he says.

"Putting real life in the place of idealisation, of the hero, and we have no idea what people will do. That's the experiment, the excitement."

The practicalities revolve around a website which shares the project's name - ONEANDOTHER.CO.UK.

Mock up of member of public
Antony Gormley wants people to turn themselves into art for an hour

Interested members of the public register, the computer then chooses a representative cross section of 2,400 names.

They are matched to the 2,400 hour-long slots on the plinth which run 24 hours a day from July to October.

Each individual will be fork-lifted up 25ft to spend their hour in full view, with no banister or barrier to protect them, other than a safety net skirting the plinth.

Then they can do exactly what they want, while being lit, filmed and recorded for an archive Mr Gormley hopes will produce a portrait of Britain.

As he was explaining the plan I began to think of what could go wrong - could it be hijacked, or become the scene of political protest and personal breakdown, or just make the "plinther" a target for abuse or projectiles?

Despite the endless frightening possibilities, Antony Gormley remains remarkably sanguine.

There will be a security presence, but otherwise participants can make a protest, juggle, shout, basically do as much as they like with the platform - or as little.

"I'm just as happy for someone to do absolutely nothing. They could have a kip for an hour or just stand there. I think that's enough," he says.

"The difference between this and theatre is the unpredictability, and that its about the condition of sculpture. You ask life to occupy the condition of sculpture, exposure, the elements, time, scrutiny."

Serious commitment

Ah. Scrutiny. It's not a bronze cast up there, it's an exposed human being.

And that's the unknown element which I fancy Mr Gormley likes the most.

What would you do on the Fourth Plinth?

When I stood up on that bench in front of him I felt surprisingly uncomfortable, vulnerable and a bit threatened.

What happens if a "plinther" gets scared, or caught short, or it starts howling a gale? Can they pop down?

"No they can't. They've got to stay up there. It's a serious commitment. We're making a sculpture here with an hour of someone's time."

Antony Gormley is one of the most successful creators of public art, anywhere.

Large metal casts of his own body are the basis for the famous Angel of the North in Gateshead, the 100 figures washed by the tide on a beach near Liverpool and the statues he placed on random roofs around central London last year.

Now he wants our body, our time and our presence on the empty plinth.

We'll be making living bodies into representations and hopefully people will tell us about that journey
Antony Gormley

As he walked away in his fluorescent cycling jacket a crowd of teenagers began shouting at him.

"Antony Gormley! We love you! Woo! Woo!"

I was astonished. Other than Rolf Harris, I've never seen an artist recognised in public and serenaded.

But let's suppose you have gone out to find a bench and are standing on it now. Are you a sculpture yet? What are you? How do you move from Life to Art?

"You've moved from being a citizen pavement walker to being a representation," he says, explaining that those on the plinth will be representations of the human condition.

"We'll be making living bodies into representations and hopefully people will tell us about that journey. But you know, just to stand is enough."

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