Finally, A Brilliant Fourth Plinth
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 SchÃ¼tteâ€™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.