Finally, A Brilliant Fourth Plinth

London, The Arts

Londoners have a habit of deciding for themselves which buildings and artworks they like most. The Gherkin was instantly loved, as were the London Eye and the Wobbly Bridge. I have a feeling they’ll take very strongly to the latest addition, and want to make it permanent. Most artists providing pieces for Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth have ignored the historical setting. Thomas Schütte’s ‘Model for a Hotel’ was the tackiest. Marc Quinn’s sculpture ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ was graceful but had no connection to the site. Now comes Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Ship In A Bottle’. And somehow, instead of making you think of seaside trinkets – it’s beautiful.

A 1/30th replica of Nelson’s flagship Victory, on which he died during the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, it has 37 sails with 31 set as on the battle day for a light wind. It carries 80 cannons, on deck and almost invisible below deck, and the materials are traditional oak and hardwood, brass, twine and canvas. The flags include the signal “engage the enemy closely”, which on the day replaced the famous eve of battle “England expects”, and the white ensign showing the navy’s high commander is on board. The sails look like Shonibare’s trademark African cottons, woven in England and printed with African patterns for export, which he buys in Brixton market and has used repeatedly to subvert iconic pieces of western art. They are actually made of traditional sail canvas, hand-sewn, and hand printed in batik designs by the artist. Shonibare has produced something which at once acknowledges multiculturalism and England’s naval history in equal measure. I’d like to see it stay for good.

3 comments on “Finally, A Brilliant Fourth Plinth”

  1. jan says:

    Yes i can’t believe it someones made a smashing choice for once i’ve only seen it on telly as yet but the sails look gr8 – Just
    think all the ships in Nelson’s fleet running on the lamposts up the mall and his actual ship in a glass bottle in Trafalgar Square.
    Lovely. apparently this artist bloke thinks of everything and theres even fans within the bottle (concealed of course) so the thing doesn’t get steamed up

  2. I just hope the glass or whatever the bottle is made of is very tough and durable.

  3. The entire idea of changing the plinth feels like it might be too postmodern for the new government, in which case you might just get your wish…

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