The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Sqaure

Antony Gormley is the latest artist to be commissioned to fill the empty fourth plinth at London’s Trafalgar Square.  The One & Other project spans over 100 days for 24 hours a day from 6th July to 14th October, seeing one member of the public spend one hour on the plinth, doing whatever they please.

In the past figures of David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson have made appearances on the fourth plinth, alongside sculptural pieces by the likes of Marc Quinn, Bill Woodrow and Mark Wallinger.  However, it is clear that this particular project has either fascinated or infuriated its audience, with critics accusing Gormley's work as lazy, and an unnecessary risk encouraging exhibitionism among the public.  It raises the old question to the subjective debate ‘what is art?’  What are the necessary conditions for being art?  When Nicolas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, was asked for his opinion on One & Other he replied “As a historian of sculpture it seems to me to have more to do with theatre than sculpture.  Therefore, I leave it to theatre critics to decide.  I have seen only one or two of the performances.  Or non-performances.”

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Gormley has produced an interesting twist on the tradition of living art.  A quick visit to the One & Other website and you will see a live screening of the person currently positioned on the plinth, carrying out whatever is it they are doing, in what feels like a very Big Brother-esque scenario. For me, it is through the combination of the concept of living sculpture and these new digital ideas, such as reality tv, where the attraction and curiosity lies.  

Gormley claims that the idea behind his demogratic artwork is to create a composite picture of Britain, by setting the conditions with the rest passed on to the participants.  Who knows what is to come but so far people have used the hour to perform art, music, raise charity profiles or simply just be.  The project certainly isn’t without risk, however so far, albeit a few protestors, his gamble has been successful.  To view participants live go to www.oneandother.co.uk.

A literary masterpiece

I have to admit, when I come across a book that could act a door stop I usually shy away in reluctance. No difference then with Shantaram, where after initial inspection I came to the conclusion that it would take me in the region of years to plough my way through the almost 1000 pages ahead.  However, after several enthusiastic recommendations and being gripped by the blurb on the back cover, I decided to give it a go.  I can safely say this exhilarating thriller is the best book I have read in a very long time, I couldn’t put it down and it was over in a matter of days.

Shantaram, written by Gregory David Roberts, is the description of real life events and Roberts’ own experiences, behind the fa├žade of fiction.  In 1980, Roberts escaped from an Australian prison after being sentenced in 1978 to 19 years in jail for armed robbery.  He subsequently became one of Australia’s most wanted men for the 10 years that followed. 

Shantaram tells a breath-taking tale of escaping to Bombay with a fake passport, where he is forced to the slums with nothing but his new identity as a man named Lindsay.  Here he sets up a free health clinic and learns about the culture, finding time to become fluent in Hindi and Marathi.  He joins the Bombay underworld, recruited by the mafia and becomes tangled up in criminal operations from money laundering to forging and street fighting.  His incredible adventure sees him fighting with the Maujahedeen in Afghanistan, surviving outbreaks of cholera, ethnic conflicts, starring in Bollywood movies, until he eventually lands in prison and is abused to the edge of death. The book presents a spiritual journey, in which fear and loneliness, love and compassion are at its very core.  What is even more jaw dropping about this novel, alongside the extraordinary adventures, is that Roberts wrote it a staggering total of three times after prison guards destroyed the first two copies.

Roberts portrays such vivid cultural scenes, you cannot help but become totally engaged in the power of the images he conjures.  It has given me the travel bug, and I would now desperately love to visit India.  I recently discovered that a film based on the novel is on track to be released in 2011, with Johnny Depp cast as the lead.  If the film can reflect everything at the heart of the book, it should be set for great success.