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Art & Public Space, Art Projects, Commissions, Exhibitions & Events, Sculpture

The Fourth Plinth: Elmgreen & Dragset. Powerless Structures, Fig.101

The Fourth Plinth Programme commissions temporary contemporary works for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Elmgreen & Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig.101 is a 4.1-metre high golden bronze sculpture of a boy astride his rocking horse. The child is elevated to the status of a historical hero in line with the existing iconography of the other naval, military, political and regal statues in Trafalgar Square. Instead of acknowledging the heroism of the powerful, however, the work celebrates the heroism of growing up. In this portrayal, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate – only a future to hope for. It is a visual statement celebrating expectation and change rather than glorifying the past.

“Their ‘Powerless Structures’ are an ongoing series of installations and performances in which the two artists examine space with its manifold possibilities of meaning and functions. The question of constructing meaning in private and public or institutional space and its sexual connotation is fundamental for Elmgreen’s and Dragset’s works. By transferring spaces to other contexts of meaning, but also via targeted interventions in the way a space functions, Elmgreen and Dragset time and again succeed in shaking off the customary meanings of a space and thus creating room for new and different interpretations. All works of the artists therefore express the alterability of established structures.” Jochen Volz

The work proposes a paraphrase of a traditional war monument and the artists consider that the sculpture is not about victory or defeat. “It’s about play, being part of a game. It’s maybe not about winning or losing. It’s easy for us to stand up here today and say it’s not all about winning, but… We wanted to put something among all the admirals and generals in Trafalgar Square that would perhaps be mocking, perhaps change people’s perspectives.”  Elmgreen & Dragset, however, are known for their subversive ironic stance and the sculpture can also represent a symbol of resistance to modern Olympic ideals. The rocking horse is a metaphor representing impotence and immobility. It is moving on the same spot, taking part in a race never to be won. It suggests the pointless and futility of the quest for medals. The child represents both the poignancy of impossible hope and the innocence of participation. The gold is the symbol of Olympic victory. And is it by chance that Fig.101 resonates with Room 101: “The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” a psychological torture room in the Ministry of Love in George Orwell’s 1984?

Based in London and Berlin, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have worked together as an artist duo since the mid-1990s and their works include Drama Queens, 2007, a theatre production with remote-controlled fibreglass replicas of six famous sculptures, and a Memorial for Persecuted Homosexuals during the Nazi period in Berlin, 2008.

Commissioned by the Mayor of London and supported by Arts Council England, AlixPartners and Louis Vuitton, under the guidance of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group the sculpture was unveiled on Thursday 23 February 2012.

The Fourth Plinth programme was initiated in 1998 by the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) with the support of the Cass Sculpture Foundation. In 1999 responsibility for Trafalgar Square was transferred to the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority. History of the Fourth Plinth Programme commissions:  Mark Wallinger, Ecce Homo, 1999;  Bill Woodrow, Regardless of History, 2000; Rachel Whiteread, Monument, 2001; Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant ,  2005. Thomas Schütte Model for a Hotel, 2007; Antony Gormley’s One & Other, 2009; Yinka Shonibare, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2011. The following commission In 2013 will be Katharina Fritsch, Hahn / Cock. 

Images: Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig.101;  Katharina Fritsch, Hahn / Cock. Images courtesy © Greater London Authority (GLA)


About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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