Gormley on his plinth: 'I would be very upset if nobody took their clothes off'

Almost 5,000 people sign up to take their place as part of sculptor's 'living artwork' in Trafalgar Square

Arts Correspondent,Arifa Akbar
Friday 27 February 2009 01:00

Ever since Antony Gormley was commissioned to winch people up on a plinth in the middle of Trafalgar Square to do whatever they wished, doom-mongers have predicted the "living artwork" would become a soapbox for extremists, nudists and the nation's most depraved exhibitionists.

But for the sculptor, there is only one worse outcome than this: for none of the above to happen.

His Fourth Plinth commission will be installed from 6 July and Gormley said yesterday that he would be disappointed if everyone who was chosen to be winched atop the plinth as part of One and Other behaved sensibly.

At the very least, he pleaded, there should be a bit of nudity, interspersed with the odd arrest, perhaps. Oh, and he would be applying to climb up there too, he said, if only for the view.

"Unless there is a degree of contention up there, it will have no teeth. The project will be limp... I would be very upset if somebody didn't take their clothes off... I imagine there may be occasion for arrest. We will have to deal with that when it happens."

The nation came closer to finding out who would be drawn to Gormley's theatre of the soapbox when internet registration began yesterday. By 3pm, 4,700 people had signed up.

Over 100 days, 2,400 randomly selected applicants will be carted on to the plinth for one hour each, to make incendiary speeches across the square or merely stare up at the clouds.

There will be no vetting process for applicants – although equal numbers of men and women will be selected.

The event organisers Artichoke said people would be free to use the plinth to air any political views they liked, provided they remained within the law (Gormley hoped they would be given some legal "latitude" at that).

Health and safety regulations require a safety net to be assembled around the 10ft high plinth. The only three rules are that applicants go up on their own, take whatever equipment they can carry, be it a megaphone, a unicycle or a pair of knitting needles, and avoid breaking the law: Helen Marriage, an Artichoke director, said: "We will have non-stop teams in Trafalgar Square and people who are lifting the applicants up, so they will lift them down if they have to."

Gormley did not deny the concept bore a passing resemblance to reality television formats or that it would attract fame-seekers (it will be streamed live and Sky Arts will even show its highlights every week) but that would not undermine its greater impact, he insisted.

"There will be those self-selecting exhibitionists that have been burning to communicate their acts or words but there will be others who are just representing themselves or their communities... There will be those people who hold dearly prejudicial views but these voices will be qualified by other acts and voices," he said.

Gormley said that the artwork would also act as an "important archive" which would become a reference source at sociology and anthropology departments of the London School of Economics.

With four cameras angled at the plinth at all times, the idea, Gormley said, was to immortalise the debates of our times. His critics, however, have said the greatest debate is whether this idea constitutes art at all.

The Fourth Plinth commission scheme has often sparked controversy and debate, including over Mark Quinn's sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant, a sculpture of a fellow artist who was born with phocomelia, which left her with no arms and shortened legs.

To apply to take part in One and Other, go to www.oneandother.co.uk

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