Great Works: The White Horse (2013) Life-size by Mark Wallinger

Spring Gardens, London

Are you aware that the piazza in front of the British Council's
Spring Garden headquarters at the eastern end of the Mall is a
temporary exhibition space for public art? It currently displays
Mark Wallinger's White Horse, a life-size reproduction of a race
horse in marble and resin that stands close to one corner of a
large, low, rectangular plinth.

The centre of London rampages with equestrian portrait sculptures of a fairly traditional stamp, from Field Marshal Earl Haig in Whitehall to that great pudding of Edward VII, Rex et Imperator, in Waterloo Place. In any equestrian statue, the horse exists to exalt or to set off the man who is its mount. We are also being persuaded that something of the power and the musculature of the horse itself seeps into the very veins of the man, apportioning him some of its animal strength and vigour.

Wallinger's horse feels both related and unrelated to all these equestrian manifestations in a number of interesting ways. It is unmounted for a start, and it is nothing but horse without tackle, wholly unencumbered. It is not there to be seen in relation to the one who subjugates it or shows himself off at its expense. It does not exist to point a tale, martial or monarchical. Being quite shockingly white – especially when the sun blazes out – it puts us in mind of England's bevy of white horses out in the landscape, those strange apparitions in white silhouette that exist on our chalky, gently rising hillsides as we shift towards the West, and whose symbolic importance we often find ourselves musing upon as we rush by them in train or car.

Wallinger's nag is not in frisky or combative mood. Quite the opposite, in fact. It looks positively self-absorbed in its graceful serenity, almost mystically self-contained. Its front legs seem inclined to move, but its back legs hold a different point of view. Almost most interesting of all, it is not perfectly centred on its very large and low-lying white plinth. In fact, it stands towards one corner, as if it has been set free to roam, and has reached a certain decision as to its own positioning. The head is slightly canted down to the left.

Public art is art that exists in a public context, and it is constantly modified by that context. And so it is here. This horse causes us to reflect upon all the other horses, man-made and real, which circulate about central London.

The presence of the horse on this plinth – it could be the horse's own browsing space – causes us not only to think about the meaning of the supportive role that horses tend to play horses in equestrian portrait sculpture, but it also reminds us that a low line of view brings us much closer to what we are looking at, both physically and emotionally. It grounds the object. It makes the onlooker feel on a level with it. We are no longer set apart from it. We achieve a kind of casual intimacy with this preternaturally white horse – various people are stepping up on to its plinth to get a better view of it as I stand looking at it. In short, the plinth has increased its approachability.

What is more, those other equestrian statues nearby feel strangely compromised and exposed by the presence of this white horse in their midst. It seems to be showing them up for what they are, mere props for man's self-aggrandisement and myth-making. The only horse it seems to crave kinship with is that golden rocking horse on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, just a couple of hundred yards away from here, which is also cocking a snook at the silly posturings of monarchs and warmongers.

As Jonathan Swift pointed out in his wonderful parable of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos at the tail end of Gulliver's Travels almost three hundred years ago, horses are so much less base than human beings.

About the artist: Mark Wallinger

The English painter, sculptor and video artist Mark Wallinger was born in Chigwell, Essex, in 1959. He studied at the Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths College, both in London. Horses and horse-racing have long been a passion, which eventually culminated in the purchase of his own race horse, a two-year-old filly, in 1994, which he called A Real Work of Art. He was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1995 for A Real Work of Art, a model of his horse.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz