The Fourth Plinth: Alive Dad

My only must-see for our trip to London last Sunday - apart from my Serendipity meeting - was to go and gawp at One and Other, Antony Gormley's 100-day installation on the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar square. This started on July 6th and 2,400 people each have (or had) the opportunity to be a living statue for an hour where they can do anything they like on there as long as it's legal and doesn't involve getting off again until their time's up.

It was Graham, aka Alive Dad posing when we were there, a homage to middle aged dads everywhere. He'd assembled a flat-pack deckchair and - I was glad to see - placed a Canna at each corner of the plinth. When we arrived he was taking pictures of the square and waving at everyone. He then sat in his deckchair and proceeded to read a newspaper - a copy of The Independent. He was wearing a t-shirt bearing a silhouette of himself sitting in a deckchair, plus the logo Just Be It. A neat twist on the Nike logo.

Alive Dad's wife was handing out leaflets about why her husband was there - unfortunately when I caught up with her they'd all gone - she was really enjoying the experience, though perhaps a little overwhelmed at the event and the response her husband was getting from the masses of people in the square that afternoon. Luckily I'd taken a photo of the leaflet and from that was able to track down a copy of it on One and Other's website. Just as well because without that information it would be extremely difficult to find.

There's much to like and ponder from Alive Dad's manifesto:

I'm an introverted man - so I'm dying to ask him what prompted him to do it

I socialise under gentle pressure from my wife - so was it her idea then?

I am my father. (except for the gardening) - so what's with the Cannas - and why Cannas and where did you get them?

There is a sculpture called Dead Dad of a little dead dad - this one's interesting as it turns out the Dead Dad sculptor is an exponent of the 'hyper realistic' movement. What could be more (hyper)realistic than a living sculpture?

I want to be honest about who I am. I am not a performing seal.

I am reading a newspaper because democracy only works for as long as people are informed about society and interested in different opinions.

Quite. And it's obvious from the manifesto he's thought quite a bit about why he's there and what to do with his hour. Even though on the surface it looks very simple and just what a lot of people might do on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Except they won't be doing it in a very public place. Or as part of an art installation.

I've thought quite a lot about my visit since then. Of course the whole thing is also an internet event, so you can view it live. I've checked in a few times to see what's going on. On Sunday night there was a man sitting with a laptop and shouting through a megaphone - ironically the internet sound wasn't working at the time; on Monday a girl who describes herself on the website as extrovert, was simply sitting on the plinth and writing in her journal. A local guy from Bath used his hour this week to conduct an orchestra assembled for the occasion below him. As I write this it's a lady with a brolly dancing and singing in the rain. It really is a most bizarre event, but also strangely compelling and wonderful.

Then I found the previous participant's hours are also available on the website and I finally managed to track down Alive Dad's. Naturally most of the footage is focused on him, but every so often it cuts to the audience in the square. At around the 24th minute there's a brief glimpse of me arriving and also later on at around the 37th minute. Does that make me part of this art installation too?

Some of the comments on the website are interesting. A number say - it's all rather boring - well, most statues don't do anything at all, so aren't they even more boring? Another commenter says - the majority of the participants are white and middle class, so it's not a representation of our society. I think that would be almost impossible to achieve and then, looking at the usual kind of statues we saw on Sunday, they're not particularly representative either - mainly kings, queens, nobles, great achievers and elder statesmen.

Anything like this is always going to be a topic for a debate on whether or not it's art, but I still wanted to go and see for myself. Before I went I thought it would either show the British at their most eccentric, or be quite boring. I don't think it was either at the time of my visit, though I'm sure it'll be both at other times. And because it's made me think so much, I for one am happy to call it Art with a capital A.

Update: The 10-11pm BST slot on 16th July was one of the more eccentric ones. Have a look here to see Velorose for yourself. His write-up shows an amazing connectivity with Trafalgar Square too.

There's loads more to see on the website - I'll give you one last link which has various photos and YouTube videos participants have put together. I'm particularly taken with the pinhole camera image at the top of the page. A nice connection to another, older form of art.

NB you can still apply to take part. If you did and were accepted, what would you do with your hour?

Update 17/7/2009: Hurrah - as of today the site's much easier to search for a particular Plinther - is this a new word for the English language? - following mine and a few others comments on how dire this was previously :)


  1. I have just hot footed it over to have a look at the website coverage - most interesting. I have read about this and seen it featured on the news but had not realised it was going on 24/7. I shall certainly peek in again so thanks for the link VP. I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to that plinth so I have no ideas as to what I would do with that hour :) What about you ?

  2. Thanks for this - I had clocked it was going on without really engaging with it so have just had a proper look with your encouragement. I like Alive Dad too and think his choice of newspaper is quite canny!
    I would pot up seedlings with my hour, if I had one.

  3. A whole hour, no kids to take care of, nothing to do? Is it wrong that I might take the chance to nap?

  4. I think the whole event is a great idea though the thought of going on the plinth myself is too horrible to contemplate.
    I was surprised that it was 24hrs as it can't be much fun being stuck there at 2am with only passing drunks as an audience:-).

  5. Anna - I haven't really thought it through. I like the idea of doing something like the pinhole camera picture. Something that needs a bit of setting up and time and results in a unique souvenir of the experience. Or maybe turning the whole plinth into a garden for an hour - though that could be a bit difficult as you're limited to what you can carry onto the cranelift and I'd have to get it from Chippenham to London in the first place. Or how about making something simple and getting onlookers to make it with you and getting them all displayed on the plinth as they're made?

    Elizabethm - that sounds lovely. An hour for yourself, enjoying what you like doing.

    LGF - I believe at least one person's done that already. Just make sure you take something comfy to rest on :)

    EG - hopefully they have some friends there too to counteract the presence of the drunks!

  6. There were a lot of reasons why I went onto the Fourth Plinth, and I hope most questions will be answered by my video archive on my Plinth Page:
    Alan's Fourth Plinth page

    And on my BBC interview straight after:
    Alan's BBC Fourth Plinth interview


  7. Hi Alan - you look like you had an interesting hour! I like how you're also extending what you're doing via your page on One and Other.

    I visited the Hay Festival in May where an artist was doing a similar project there. He was asking for our favourite word - either real or made up, together with our own definition of its meaning. Most people gave a real word, so I decided to give my favourite made up word - grumplebum - which is my husband when he's in a bad mood!

  8. Great word that! ;-)

    I'm actually doing a Favourite Word Slam in the Bradford on Avon Arts Festival next month.

    My wife and I did a Favourite Word Slam at a Christmas/flat warming party about four years ago and wanted to repeat it again as it was so successful, now we're going fully public.

    I had heard of the event, and I bet it was fun and addictive. ;-)


  9. Hi Alan - it was a lot of fun. It's great when Art adds a smile to people's faces :)

    BoA Festival? That means you might be near Chippenham? It's always good to know about local bloggers!

    We sometimes talk about the Word Verification words here and what they might mean. It's musneswi at the moment, which sounds like I must do something in a broad Yorkshire accent ;)


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