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Rockin' the Square

Hugh Pearman

The Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square in London is the one which was intended, in 1841, for an equestrian statue of King William IV

For some reason or other the said statue never materialised. And so, in 1999, the idea was born that temporary pieces of specially-commissioned contemporary sculpture should be given a lengthy airing on the Plinth. The latest has just arrived. It’s good.

We’ve had all kinds of ideas up there on the plinth, most recently Yinka Shonibare’s giant ship in a bottle, but the latest, by Scandinavian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, is the first to actively attempt a modern interpretation of an equestrian statue. The title of the work is “Powerless Structures, Fig 101”.

It’s a little boy on a rocking horse – looking like a self-assembly plywood rocking-horse. Boy and horse are both finished in gold as such triumphal pieces traditionally were.  But although ‘little’ the scale of boy and horse is blown up to the proportions of the plinth and the surrounding statuary. It works surprisingly well in the context. Is it an antidote to the martial character of Trafalgar Square? Distinctly camp, is it anti-machismo? Up to a point – the boy is carrying no weapon, he is merely waving gracefully, even regally, classically. But we don’t know what’s going on inside his head. He could be dreaming of battles. He could be war-gaming. 

Staring straight past Nelson’s Column, down Whitehall to the Palace of Westminster, he could even represent the British Government. We want our place at the international military High Table, oh yes. We want power, we want influence. But we don’t have a whole lot to back it up with these days, do we? Still, let’s pretend.