Yes, we have bananas - 30,000 of them. Nelson surveys square's latest installation

Well before dawn, the early birds around Trafalgar Square realised something was amiss. Bananas, hundreds of them, were being piled in a huge heap. That they were positioned next to the National Gallery offered a clue. The hundreds became 30,000 by 5am and London's most famous square had its latest art installation.

Well before dawn, the early birds around Trafalgar Square realised something was amiss. Bananas, hundreds of them, were being piled in a huge heap. That they were positioned next to the National Gallery offered a clue. The hundreds became 30,000 by 5am and London's most famous square had its latest art installation.

The bananas provoked much scratching of heads as the crowds of tourists and passers-by pondered what the latest statement on the North Terrace could possibly mean.

Its creator, Doug Fishbone, was giving away few clues. He and 20 dedicated friends had arrived in a truck at 1.30am yesterday with six tons of Cavendish bananas to create the two-foot high mound. This, though, was a temporary installation and by 3pm, Mr Fishbone 35, a New Yorker who won the student category in the Becks Future awards this year, had begun to dismantle his creation and distributed all the bananas to passers-by.

During the day, the artwork was described in a variety of ways: a post-modern work of staggering genius; a cunning marketing ploy; a chimpanzee's dream. But by the time the bananas were given away, no one seemed to care. A scrum of tourists, office workers and students battled to bag themselves a bunch. "I'm going to sell these at the Tube station. If he can call a bunch of bananas art, then I think I can too - and make a profit," said Aidan Ashton Griffiths, 16, from north London

Two Russian women, who reckoned the artist's message was one of communist abundance ("to each according to his needs"), had arrived early with carrier bags to fill with free fruit. "We were told about this by the guide in our hotel. These will be our souvenirs," said Emilia Finkel, 70, from St Petersburg.

Art students guarded the work to ensure it was not dismantled prematurely by bystanders and many were admonished for attempting to eat the artwork.

Despite being pressured by the public for an explanation, Fishbone remained silent. So the crowd resorted to their own theories. Some thought it was a war memorial while a man in a monkey suit brandished a board which called it "arto-political humorism". An Australian couple thought it might be the work of activists protesting against banana importation and Marxists felt it was a comment on capitalist greed. Art students admired its vivid colour and composition.

Fishbone said the discussion was exactly what he had set out to achieve. "A lot of people have asked me what it means but I'm stepping back. I want this to involve the audience. It's such a big physical presence and changes so much in different contexts that I cannot honestly say any more whether it still has its original meaning," he said.

He said he was inspired to build the sculpture while living in South America and had created five similar installations in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Poland and New York. He explained: "I was living in Ecuador and I came across a heap of plantains dumped on the road to sell. I stopped in my tracks and thought that it looked magnificent and wanted to see it in an artistic context."

Critics were reluctant to accept the sculpture as anything other than a prosaic heap of bananas.

Anna Somers Cocks, founding editor of The Art Newspaper, said the "wow factor" had to be distinguished from its actual meaning, if any, while Brian Sewell condemned it as a hollow "attention-grabbing" exercise."It is merely the Elephant Man syndrome when people congregate to see something freakish," he said. "I could grab the same kind of public attention by standing on my head. What is not art ... is a heap of bananas in Trafalgar Square."

And what about dissent within the crowd of passers-by? John and Sonia Kemp, both 70, from Walton Creek, near San Francisco, were mystified: "When the folks back home see these pictures, they are going to think the Brits are a bunch of loonies," said Mr Kemp.

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