As British readers will probably know, but those abroad may not, the artwork that has most caught the imagination of the British public in the summer of 2009 is Anthony Gormley's One and Other project, for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
This plinth, originally designed for an equestrian statue, has in recent years been home to a number of sculptures chosen by competition. Some have been excellent, some decidedly pointless.
Anthony Gormley has had the lively if questionable idea of using the plinth as a living monument, and has asked the people of Britain to occupy the space, one at a time - one an hour for 100 days, so that over the whole period the plinth will be the stage for 2400 living statues. Each plinther uses the time exactly as he or she sees fit - some just stand there, some propagandise for good causes, some sing, or dance, or dress up as a rabbit.
Applications poured in, and participants have been selected by lottery. The editor of Snakeskin was granted the slightly unsocial time-slot of 1 a.m. on Thursday August 6th.
He was there, he thoroughly enjoyed himself, and he didn't fall off.
He read a specially composed long poem about the Square, the plinth, the pretensions of Art and the superiority of the word over the image. If you'd like to see and hear his reading, you can watch the archived footage if you go to: http://www.oneandother.co.uk/participants/George_Simmers
You can watch whatever is currently happening on the plinth by clicking here, for the One and Other homepage.
The plinth poem is long and rather rambling. Written more for the ear than for the page, it is written in loose and colloquial iambic tetrameter. Here is the first section:
The plinther poet speaks to his audience in the Square.
So. Here we are. Trafalgar Square.
And I’m up here and you’re down there.
I’m part of Gormley’s installation;
And as for you, your motivation
For being here late at night is known
To you and maybe you alone
But what ever it may be –
Thank you for your company.
Last May I volunteered, and so
I’m here, where, as you doubtless know
Each one of Gormley's posing shower
Can have his (or her) public hour
To do whatever is his schtick
(Or hers) and cameras may click,
And little crowds may clap or sneer
At jolly oddballs posing here,
Who in some future may define
Our Britain of 2009.
Well, back in May I’d no idea
What kind of folk would stand up here.
Artistic? Goofy? Or just weird?
What the hell? I volunteered.
Though rain could make the hour a bummer
It’s undeniable - this summer
Plinthing is the thing to do -
That and stockpiling Tamiflu,
Sheltering while rain buckets down
And moaning about Gordon Brown.
But though my name was up for choice
I couldn’t stop the inner voice
That asked: ‘So do you really care
To be on show above the square
Maybe getting mocked or frozen?’
Then I got an email. I was chosen.
They gave me One a.m. It's not
The most invigorating slot.
The question then – should I be miffed
That I was on the graveyard shift,
When any audience might have shrunk
To three insomniacs and a drunk?
Well no, I shall not be annoyed
If I'm reciting to a void.
I'm not just speaking to the square,
For over there, and there and there
Are cameras from Sky TV,
And they at least are watching me,
And so I speak not just to you,
But idle channel-hoppers, too,
And to the nerds and geeks who get
The live stream on the Internet,
And natter about who’s on here
Via Twitter and the Blogosphere
With comments that they think are droll
(Mostly PSML and LOL).
We’re on Week Five now, and I’ve watched
Some plinthers triumph, though some botched
Their chances badly. I have seen
A girl disguised as a machine,
A man who stripped, and one who prayed.
This is a various parade.
Some preach, while some play jolly tunes,
Dress as a duck, release balloons,
Emote about the planet’s troubles,
Take photos, or blow soapy bubbles.
Some are verbal, some are dumb.
Some make phone-calls to their mum.
Some are very slightly bonkers,
Some brilliant and some total plonkers.
Some have passion; some have wit.
Some have neither; some just sit.
Some are serious, some are jokers –
(But have you noticed? None are smokers.
A health and safety regulation
Forbids all kinds of conflagration.)
I thought I’d not be one of those
Who use the time to stand and pose.
You've noticed – I'm no supermodel,
You've noticed that my portly waddle
Is not a catwalk strut. O. K. -
If posing’s out, then how today
Can I make sure my plinthing session's
Not just a source of dumb depression,
A cheesy bore or something worse?
My hobby, as you'll see, is verse,
And therefore I shall use my time
Up here in questioning in rhyme
This project where I play my part.
Only the very dull at heart
Ponder the question – Is it Art?
I know it’s Art, and that’s the thing
That inspires my questioning.
Why should Art mean so much to us?
And is this project worth the fuss?
A marvel of sheer organization,
Has it real value for the nation?
And here’s the thing that has occurred
To me most often, has the word
Lost status in this visual age?
The plinth is here – folks come and look,
But maybe if they read a book
Mightn’t that more enrich their hearts
Than all the merely visual arts.
These are my questions, and to ask
And maybe answer them my task
For this next hour, and though I know
No rhymes for ‘plinth’, I’m set to go.
I warn you, I’m the kind of bard
Who writes iambics by the yard,
Or even sometimes by the mile.
This poem could take quite a while.
The poem did indeed take quite a while, though it didn't fill the whole hour.
The complete transcript can be found as an e-chapbook at
If you've any thoughts on the poem, or on anything else plinth-related, please email email@example.com