Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Michael Jackson, the Elgin Marbles and the Guardian

Twitter crashed under the sheer volume of messages, and Google traffic jumped so dramatically that the company thought it was under attack from hackers.

But on the Guardian website, (which remains Britain’s most-visited newspaper website, with 27,194,840 unique visitors in May, according to the latest figures), the news of Michael Jackson’s death made only number three on its ‘Most Viewed’ chart for the seven days ending on Monday 29 June, which includes the weekend when Jackson died.

The most viewed? The USA v Brazil confederations cup final live-as-it-happened commentary, believe it or not. Even more remarkably, an arts diary poll on whether it is time to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece came in at number two.

The poll, which drew 380,000 viewers and 130,000 voters, yielded an Albania-under-Enver Hoxha style result, with 94.8 per cent in favour of their return and 5.2 per cent against – which suggested something of a fix.

And so it proved. Forty thousand came to the poll via various Facebook campaigns; 6,000 more came from a single email circular. Half of those who voted came from Athens, which normally accounts for 0.4 per cent of Guardian website traffic.

Not that the Guardian minded; it’s all grist to its online advertising mill. By July the cricket was dominating its ‘Most Viewed’ charts. There was room, however, for one Jacko story, a classic of its kind: ‘Paul McCartney "not devastated" over Michael Jackson will.’

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

One and Other

Stephen Bayley called it ‘art for the Facebook generation’, which is kind of flattering when you’re old enough to remember waiting lists for telephone lines. But I got my hour on the ‘people’s plinth’ in Trafalgar Square on the opening day of Antony Gormley’s ‘One And Other’ project and I am now officially a work of art in the same portfolio as the ‘Angel of the North’ and ‘Another Place’.

I’d already ditched my idea of spending the hour as the sniper who shot Nelson by the time the day came around. This was partly because I decided against re-fighting 200-year-old wars when there are more than enough present-day ones to be going on with, and partly because I’d not properly considered the logistics of getting hold of an authentic Napoleonic musket, let alone brandishing it in the heart of 21st-century London. The National Theatre props department ‘doesn’t do guns’ (though it does do a very tempting line in steel cutlasses); and the most promising theatrical outfitters went very cold on the idea when I couldn’t answer their questions on security and police licences.

Other possibilities came and went (lying down for the hour so that no one could see me was one of them). But as soon as I got to the square I realised that what the public wanted from this latest manifestation of public art was a performance not a statue, living or otherwise. So, armed only with a blackboard and a bag of chalk, I did my best to find the lowest artistic common denominator and scribbled a succession of unethereal messages for the Twitter generation watching online (, if you have an empty hour to fill).

One of them said ‘I’m better at football’, which prompted a particularly snooty bystander to remark ‘Well that says it all.’ ‘The real art’s in there,’ she added, gesturing to the National Gallery on the north of the square. And maybe it is, but I bet the Fourth Plinth project has got more people talking about art than the Littleton Pilaster Saints, much as I love the gallery’s latest acquisition, ever did.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Taking the plinth

Life is what happens when you're busy blogging on other matters, to paraphrase John Lennon. And life has been coming at me in a bit of a rush over the past few months, which is why I haven't spent very much of my time in the blogosphere for a while. More of that another time (if I ever manage to find the time). For now, hello again, I'm back: you might have seen me in Trafalgar Square.