If, in a public square in a capital city, you have an empty plinth intended for a statue of a figure on a horse then what better to put on it than a statue of a figure on a horse? After testing a lot of alternatives on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, the plinth that never quite got its statue, it should come as no surprise that the powers that be have yielded to the inevitable and installed the statue that was always meant to be there. Sort of.
Since 1999, the empty plinth in the North West corner of Trafalgar Square – originally intended for a statue of King William IV, a plan that was scuppered by a lack of funds – has been used for a succession of contemporary art commissions. There have been some extraordinary works so far*, the latest of which has just been unveiled: Elmgreen and Dragset’s Powerless Structures Fig. 101. And so, finally, albeit temporarily, Trafalgar Square gets the equestrian statue it has been lacking for so long.
Elmgreen and Dragset’s take on equestrian statuary may be playful – though figurative and cast in bronze, this is hardly what the plinth was built for – but nonetheless it makes an interesting comment on the purpose of public statuary in celebrating political and military history. Memorialising the future may be a tricky concept but Powerless Structures Fig. 101 offers us a monument to the future in the form of an everychild figure on a rocking horse.
For me, one of the highlights of the 2009 Venice Biennale was Elmgreen and Dragset’s installation The Collectors, which occupied the Danish and Nordic pavilions. The image of the figure of Mr B., floating face down in his pool outside the Nordic pavilion, remains firmly fixed in my mind. Looking at Powerless Structures Fig. 101, I find myself wondering how Mr B. would look – and what he might represent – in the fountains of Trafalgar Square. Perhaps it’s best we don’t find out.
* Rachel Whiteread’s Monument (2001), Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo (1999) and Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010) spring to mind for me. It hasn’t all been good though; I still hold Antony Gormley personally responsible for it raining almost every day of summer 2009.