Urban travel tales

Secret London: Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinth

Promoting the benefits from the embracing of Cultural Heritage & Ecology, these posts feature in En & Gr thoroughly edited and researched, illustrated by my photos. Enjoy the journey!
                                                                               2013 © Copyright. All rights reserved

The Fourth Plinth, the Empty Plinth at the North West corner of Trafalgar Square

has been housing contemporary art exhibits since 1999.
At ICA on The Mall, a collection of 21 commissioned maquettes by celebrated artists were displayed under the title ‘Fourth Plinth: Contemporary Monument’ in partnership with the Mayor of London from December 4th, 2012 to January 20th, 2013.
Brought together for the first time in 13 years these commissioned artworks chosen to adorn a public space with international visibility, such as Trafalgar Square, bring forth changing attitudes about art.

urban travel tales, Secret London, Trafalgar Square

The Mall, ICA

The Story

Clippings from the press are also exhibited, along with comments and reactions not only on the commissions, but also on the project itself from the moment it was proposed in 1994 to its execution in 1999.

The Fourth Plinth has been left Empty for almost 150 years when Prue Leith, a businesswoman, then chair of the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce) talked to the Evening Standard about the need to fill this empty space with suggestions from the public.

After years of negotiations and debates, James Lingwood’ s proposal that the plinth should be a site for contemporary artwork prevailed, and in 1999 the first, Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger was installed marking the turn of the millenium.

The next, installed for a full year, was Regardless of History by Bill Woodrow.

Not all of the commissioning proposals ended up to be installed on the Fourth Plinth, like Jeremy Deller’s bombed car It is What it is, Conversations about Iraq; however, they found their place in other Museums and in the art debates.

urban travel tales, Secret London, Trafalgar, Fourth Plinth

installed from May 2010 to Jan. 2012, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle,                                           maquette proposal 2007, by Yinka Shonibare


Now : Elmgreen & Dragset

urban travel tales, Trafalgar,Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig.101

Installed now, Powerless Structures, Fig.101, maquette 2010, by Elmgreen & Dragset

In 2012 and early 2013 Powerless Structures by Elmgreen & Dragset stare us from the height of the Fourth Plinth. The sculpture is 4.11 meters high and 4.32 meters long and weighs 3.1 tons.

I read: ” It is a sculpture of a boy astride his rocking horse. A boy has been elevated to the status of historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate – only a future to hope for. Cast in bronze, the work references the traditional monuments in the square, but, with its golden shine, it celebrates generations to come.

“We wanted to create a public sculpture which, rather than dealing with topics of victory or defeat, honours the everyday battles of growing up”.

Seeking an urban metaphor

Right at the center London the Metropolis, the exhibit of a complex and controversial art surrounded by monumental sculptures and references seems to me like a performance put on stage in an open air theater.

It has the temporary, ephemeral character of a performance; even after its removal and replacement by the next artwork it will continue, like a theatrical performance, to be ‘on stage’ as long as it stays alive in the memories, the photographs, the videos and films, the narratives.

The magnificent structure of Trafalgar Square with its fountains and sculptures of commemorative art, harmoniously illuminated, recreates the space of an amphitheater  or an Agora in the experience of ancient Greek city state & democracy.

Likewise it provides the solid space to house disputes on public art, on national identity, on politics of power and colonialism. It brings forth questions on artistic manifestation and the city. 

urbantraveltales, Secret London, Trafalgar, Fourth Plinth

Katharina Fritsch, Hahn/ Cock, 2010

So, for me, a traveler, a foreigner here who arrives to the heart of London from the South of Europe, from Greece, the Fourth Plinth proves by its presence, here and now, for 13 years already, that it belongs to Trafalgar Square, to London.
It is part of this cultural context by the very fact that it sustains and supports artistic experimentation and public discourse.

When public becomes private

I read in the exhibition catalogue, along with the names of the artists involved:

“Fourth Plinth brings out the art critic in everyone”. “The triumph of the Fourth Plinth is that it ignites discussion among those who would not usually find themselves considering the finer points of contemporary art”.

I did not have the chance to experience “how the artwork looks different as the events played at the feet of these sculpture alter”, whether it is a protest, a demonstration, celebrating the New Year or a sport event.

But I have photographed Trafalgar Square at dusk.

urban travel tales, Secret London,Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinth

Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinth

urban travel tales, Secret London,Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinthurban travel tales, Secret London,Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinthurban travel tales, Secret London,Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinthurban travel tales, Secret London,Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinth
For more information visit http://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/
ICA, Institute of Contemporary Arts: www.ica.org.uk/events

You may also want to check Discover Secret London: King’s Cross

2013 © Copyright. All rights reserved


  1. First off I want to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head
    before writing. I’ve had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
    I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes
    are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.

    Any recommendations or tips? Kudos!

    • Thank you for your feedback. And for giving me the opportunity to start my writing right now! So, let’s see: I’ ve being reading a lot of interviews by great writers about the writing process; some recommend discipline i.e. a specific hour of the day. Others ‘free association’: one idea or word or image leading to another, opening up a stream of inspiration. I write any time, in any mood, and when I feel like sharing an idea or information that I think is unique; like discovering a shell in the sand. The more I write the easier it becomes, the words come easier to me. I rephrase and correct myself; I read several times before publishing to see how it works for the reader. It should read easily and seem spontaneous. The hard work behind should leave no marks. I check the dictionary for a more suitable word. I find that the more I live the way I like, the more exposed I am to my preferences, to the environment, to the relationships & the stories or the films I find interesting or touching, the easier I write. I hope this is of some help to you.

  2. Hi Lisa, This is wonderful information! I used to work at an office there on Trafalgar Square when the Fourth Plinth was always empty. It seemed then that no one gave it a second thought. I’m so pleased to learn about this project. Thanks for bringing it to everyone’s attention. All the Best, Terri

    • Hi Terri, I was fascinated to find out about this project and the discussions that surround Fourth Plinth for two decades. Yet probably not as many passersby would have stopped to notice if they had not heard or read about it.
      From your experience in travelling I am sure you have seen other focal points that go unnoticed. Thanks for the visit! Happy travelling & blogging! Lisa

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