Jane B (knally) wrote,
Jane B

The Fourth Plinth

This morning at 3 a.m. I stood on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. My friend B___ was my plinth pal and travelled up to London with me yesterday. We spent the afternoon at Kew Gardens, visiting the glasshouses before heading off to the Travelodge at Covent Garden (a bargain if you're staying in London.)

We had to be at Trafalgar Square an hour and a half before, and there were still a few people around as we walked down. The One&Other office is bigger than I'd expected, a large double-storey portacabin type building at the bottom of the square. There was a security search of our bags, and a check for metal before we were allowed in. There was a small waiting area with a sofa and chairs, and the plinther before me. Next to this was the technical centre with computer and video screens, where the camera angles and sound were explained. I had to fill in and sign several forms, and then the plinthers were changed over, and the one o'clock plinther arrived back, very happy with her stint.

All the plinthers are being interviewed as part of the project, the conversation is not just about what you're going to do, but about your life and where you come from, so there will be a snapshot of society at this moment in time. When the interview finished it was time to dress up warmly, although the temperatures were mild for the time of year. I went out to the cherry picker and we headed slowly off from behind the cabin into the square. Because of the safety nets round the platform you have to be raised up quite high before it's lowered into place on the platform edge. The two o'clock man came off the plinth and I was allowed on - ensuring there's only one plinther on the platform at any time.

The first thing you notice is that although it's described as 4 ft 11 inches wide that doesn't seem very much when you're suddenly stuck on it. But after a few moments of vertigo and tentative wandering about I became used to it. I took several photos to start with, since it's a unique position for viewing the square, before setting up my 'exhibit'. The first act was wishing my brother-in-law 'Happy Birthday' although I found the sign I'd made for him didn't get picked up by the camera. Then I set out the two notices which labelled what I was doing. The first was "Silence by A Quaker" and the second "Inspiration: Sound II by A Gormley". As I mentioned in my previous update, Sound II is in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral and is a sculpture I've always found very atmospheric. When thinking about what I would do, I thought that trying to do a small homage to that would be within my capability. Initially I hadn't thought of having a book, but realised it would be a bit boring staring at my hands for an hour. I picked the "Advices & Queries" booklet of the Quakers for practicality, since it's quite small and light, and for mental stimulus, as one of its uses is for private reflection, so you can ponder the various sections for a few minutes each. I wasn't attempting a Quaker Outreach event, since the time of night rather precluded that, and Peter Davies of Bridgnorth had already done a successful open-air meeting for worship when he did his hour in July.

I did up my coat and pulled a hat on, and had gloves ready if required but the mildness of the night and the heat from the lights surrounding the plinth were enough to keep me warm, which was just as well since I wasn't moving much. I stood in the pose of the statue with arms and head bent so I could read the booklet. My feet were slightly apart and knees flexed since if you lock your knees and stand for a long time you keel over - not the highlight I wanted for my performance! Initially I was at a different angle to the statue since I didn't want to do a complete copy - that would, after all, have involved me wearing a silver bodysuit :-)

It's quite surreal being on the plinth, the lights at night make it awkward to see anything, and it was also difficult to hear anything from the square, especially over the sound of traffic. I was particularly glad to have my friend B around since I could see the flash of her camera every now and then, reminding me I wasn't alone. I settled into thinking about what I was reading, but keeping awareness of the situation around me. About 40 minutes in (it seemed a shorter time when I was up there) a young woman asked me what I was reading. I think she asked a few times, but it took me a while to hear. I'd decided beforehand that if anyone did ask I would come out of statue mode since it seemed churlish to just ignore a polite query. So I gave a muddled explanation of the book and Quakers generally, and when she asked for a reading, I saw she was with a group and thought that this one from the page I was on would be suitable:

21. Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy. When experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit.

A bit gloomy for that time of night, but, perhaps cheered by some alcohol, she expressed gratitude for the thought, and I was equally grateful for having the chance to move, since my feet were beginning to ache on the cold concrete. I moved around so I was now matching the angle of the statue and settled back to reading. The hour ended a lot sooner than I was expecting, and I gathered up my paraphernalia which was slightly damp either from dew or the spray from the fountains, and slipped in one last 'Happy Birthday' still to the wrong camera. Back on the cherry picker and then back in stately procession to the offices, where I picked up the stuff I'd left in a locker there, signed the visitor's book and met up with B again, before walking back to the hotel and falling asleep very quickly.

The response from friends and family before and after has been fun. Since I chose black as my one colour to try and give a consistent effect, I had some comments of 'Ninja Quaker'! Also since I was wearing so much and had a high collar, some friends thought I probably looked like a cross between the statue and the diver William Walker who worked on the cathedral. An elderly Quaker friend gave me a small miniature bottle of alcohol as an emergency measure, in case I was chilled on the plinth. I am quite happy with my hour, I may not have looked much like the statue, but it was a unique experience being a work of art.

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