Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Bigger than Christ

The most striking thing about the new statue on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square is how big it is. When the other 2,399 participants and I did our hours on the plinth as part of Anthony Gormley’s One and Other project last summer, a recurring feature of the experience was how small we felt – or looked – when we were up there. Not so with second world war hero Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, who stands five metres high in his fibreglass feet, towering above the mere mortals passing by below.

I’m not sure why Sir Keith has been built so large, if not simply to bludgeon home his achievements in comparison with the plebs who stood there before him. The bronze cast statue of him that will be permanently installed in nearby Waterloo Place when his six months on the plinth are up will only be 2.78 metres tall – still larger than life but not quite so intimidating as the one that is currently making Lord Nelson look small in his own backyard.

One of the things I’ve liked about the use of the previously empty fourth plinth, since it first became home to six-monthly residencies of statues and other artworks in 1999, has been the human scale of most of what has been attempted there. My favourite remains Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant, a white marble carving of Lapper, who was born with no arms and shortened legs. Even at 3.6 metres and 13 tonnes, it seemed simultaneously small and vulnerable and beautiful and strong.

The first statue to appear on the plinth, in 1999, was Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo, a life-sized figure of Christ, dressed in a loin cloth and crown of barbed wire. It looked tiny, lost and lonely up there. We have come full circle with Sir Keith Park, brave and deserving of our attention as he may be.

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