The weird and wonderful world of the plinth at night
Putting yourself on the pedestal in daylight is one thing – but the real heroes of Trafalgar Square come out at night.
Saturday 18 July 2009
By day, the appreciative crowds have clapped, cheered, and encouraged the performers on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth. Television crews have filmed them, tourists have stared at British eccentricity, and art aficionados, fresh from the National Gallery, debate the true meaning of the Antony Gormley installation.
But after dark – when the crowds are replaced by a few passing stag parties and the obligatory gaggle of barefooted girls carrying their stilettos – the plinth is a grimmer place.
Over the past few nights, The Independent has kept an often lonely vigil at Gormley's living portrait of Britain as – enduring more drunken abuse than artistic appreciation – a few take the stage, brave the dark and the rain and simply try to get through their performance unscathed.
"I was wearing a mask which I could not really see through very well, but I think that was a blessing in disguise," said Jodie Copeland, a 32-year-old music promoter, who took to the plinth at 2am on Sunday.
The Southampton man had donned a skin tight "Morph suit", in honour of Tony Hart's Plasticine model. It was, he said, all the rage at Glastonbury this year.
"I was trying to give some exposure to local bands," he said after descending from the plinth in the specially adapted cherry picker.
"There were quite a few people shouting things at me. One girl seemed particularly keen that I take off everything. Come to mention it, so was one bloke but he seemed to wander off after a while. A lot of people were asking me to throw the various props I had down to them, so I gave them my space-hopper." One girl was sent sprawling as the group fought for the inflatable toy. The winner bounced happily away up Pall Mall.
Mr Copeland was followed on to the plinth by a young woman who wanted to educate the public about the benefits of fungi. It turned out though, that extolling the virtues of mushrooms didn't go down too well with the 3am audience – particularly those drinking whiskey straight from bottles concealed in brown paper bags.
Apparently, they would have preferred her to strip, something they did not hold back from telling her as the rain began to fall more steadily. She declined their offer – it is, after all, quite cold on a plinth in Trafalgar Square at 3am.
For some, a lack of material was a problem, but many of the plinthers were content to simply stand and take in their surroundings.
That did not deter the drunken banter which at times bordered on abuse as 38-year-old Jim Penn, a film researcher from west London who was on at 11pm, found out after calls from the floor for him to account for the whereabouts of his wife. (Ever supportive, she was at the bottom of the plinth, as a matter of fact).
But for all of its drawbacks, night-plinthing also has its tender moments. One participant used her time on the plinth to ice a cake which she then presented to a member of staff who was celebrating her birthday.
Another plinther, 44-year-old Alix McCulloch, spent her hour spinning wool and said that, if anything, she preferred the late slot she was assigned on Monday night for the relative peace and quiet she enjoyed.
"I was not so worried about having a large audience watch me," she said. "The quieter slot was more in keeping with what I was doing. It would have been very strange to do such a tranquil performance in the middle of the day with hundreds upon hundreds of people around."
Gormley's work, titled One & Other, invites participants to take to the fourth plinth for one hour each. The 100-day exhibition will feature 2,400 people who are allowed to do anything they want during their time in the limelight, so long as it is legal.
The plinthers were chosen at random but had to be UK residents aged over 16 and equal numbers of men and women have been chosen. The UK population will also be represented proportionally, with a set number from each region to take part.
Art of darkness: The plinth's night-time occupants
The Southampton man took to the plinth at 2am to promote local music. A 32-year-old 'festival nut', he said he wanted to have his own mini Glastonbury. The death of his mother, Josie Roe, shortly after his application to stand on the plinth, prompted him to dedicate his appearance to her memory. Friends sent sky-lanterns – mini-hot air balloons – floating over London in a moving tribute while he entertained crowds with a series of wacky props.
The 44-year-old project manager span sheep fleece into yarn during her time on the plinth. She described finding the 10pm slot peaceful: "If anything I would have preferred an even later time," she said, adding that her performance was about showing the benefits of making things by hand. "As I spin, my heart rate slows and my blood pressure drops; the ups and downs of the day ebb away."
She wanted to promote Spice, a company which organises activities such as fire-eating workshops. Watched by friends, she used time in the spotlight at midnight to ice a cake which she then donated to a One & Other staff member who was celebrating a birthday. A fan of Antony Gormley's work, she described her pride at being selected to appear on the plinth.
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