The End for the Fourth Plinth

Heather Phillips seems to think so as her work of the same name begins its residence on Trafalgar Square's most iconic platform. Peter Gray reports.

Heather Phillipson’s ‘The End’ has finally been unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth following a four month delay due to the Coronavirus Crisis.

The piece, which depicts a scoop of cream with a cherry on top, has replaced Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’. 

Phillipson, who grew up in London, is famous for her videos and sculptural installations. The artist uses image, sound, objects, poetry and music to explore the underlying nature of identity and how it is shaped.

The End sees the artist confront the threat of systemic collapse, both structural and social. The work represents a large and unstable mass, whose volume and physical dimensions place a seemingly unbearable burden on the iconic plinth. Will the whole thing collapse? Phillipson uses the scenario to explore humanity’s titanic ambitions and whether they can ever be wholly sustainable.

History of the Plinth

It is a little-known fact but the fate of the fourth plinth was once the longest running soap opera in the history of London. The platform was completed in 1841 as part of the project that created London’s Trafalgar Square. Due to a massive funding crisis, however, the statue that had been planned for the plinth was never begun, and stripped of a reason for being, the plinth lay bare for over 150 years.

During that period a variety of proposals to fill the vacant plinth were announced, debated and subsequently discarded as the years turned into decades and the decades eventually turned into over a century.

In fact, it was not until the then Secretary of State for Culture Chris Smith decided to poll the public about the future of the platform in 1999, that the idea of a rolling commission was born.

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences and Commerce began to seek artists to temporarily fill the platform and in 2003, as ownership of the square transferred from Westminster City Council to the Mayor of London, Mayor Ken Livingstone established a permanent working group to oversee the commission.

Since then the platform has played host to a truly impressive range of artists.

Alison Lapper Pregnant – Marc Quinn

There was Marc Quinn’s ‘Alison Lapper pregnant’ statue which sought to celebrate diversity by presenting the subject, Lapper, an artist born without arms and legs, in a style more commonly used by the artists of antiquity when depicting the great beauties of the age.

Alison Lapper Pregnant

Hahn/Cock – Katharina Fritsch

Katharina Fritsch brought humour to the proceedings with her striking blue cock, which stood loud and proud among the monuments of the square and was meant to signify regeneration, awakening and strength.

Blue Cock

One and Other – Anthony Gormley

Anthony Gormley demonstrated his humanity with his 100 day long ‘One and Other’ which used ‘human sculptures’. The piece, which Gormley said intended to “elevate everyday life into the realm of monumental art” featured a different member of the public each hour performing their normal daily routines.

Powerless Structures 101

Really Good – David Shrigley

Most recently off course, the plinth has played host to David Shrigley’s ‘Really Good’. The statue depicts a seven-metre-tall hand with an elongated thumb making a ‘thumbs up’ gesture. Shrigley said the aim of the project was to champion positivity and to challenge pessimism. The work was not without its critics however, with some of the most passionate feeling like they could not give the work any sort of thumbs up at all.

The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist – Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ currently stands on the Fourth Plinth. The piece was unveiled on the 28th of March 2018 to mixed reviews. The work recreates the legendary winged bird of Nineveh which was destroyed along with many other important works when ISIS stormed the Mosul Museum in 2015. Incredibly, the whole structure has been fashioned out of empty Iraqi date syrup cans.

For information on other art exhibitions in London, please click here.



-London's Best Events-
What: new art installation
When: March 2020
Where: Trafalgar Square
Website: The End