“What is it with these grumpy old men up there on horseback?” So begins Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s artists’ statement for Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square today. The 4.1 metre high bronze statue of a young boy stride a rocking horse has split opinion, but seeing it amid the grandiosity of the famous old plaza (and bearing in mind that the committee were never likely to choose something too edgy in the Jubilee/Olympics year) it’s a fun and interesting piece, with a concept that falls the right side of the simple/simplistic divide.
The sculpture is a response to western society’s habit of commemorating military heroes – inescapable in the stern stone surroundings of Trafalgar Square – and questions the wisdom and propriety of this notion.
To the charge that they are celebrating someone who hasn’t achieved something, Michael Elmgreen counters that the young boy has never killed anyone either.
He told It’s Nice That: “He is fearless. He is still at an age when he does not have any worries, he does not see so many enemies in life. In our time here is so much to worry about, this is a little encouragement to maybe get rid of some of that fear.
“The next generation has to do things differently to the way we’ve done it.”
I genuinely think this goes beyond any trite “the children are the future” type truisms and sparkling in early spring sunshine it’s aesthetic qualities are obvious.
In their statement, the artists continue “(It) proposes an alternative to a traditional monument beyond a dualistic worldview predicated on either victory or defeat.
“The image stands as a symbol of all the innocent battles that take place only in the universe of childhood fantasy. The little boy’s wild gesture, mimicking the adult cavalier, is one of pure excitement – there will be no tragic consequences resulting from his imaginary conquest.
“The sculpture is cast in bronze so that it resembles the weighty appearance of the other sculptures situated on the square, but with its alluringly bright shine, this “new kid on the block” is advertising generations to come.
“In their ongoing series of works Powerless Structures, the artist duo challenges our conventional perception of power so that the seemingly fragile suddenly acquires a certain strength, and the significance of the less spectacular events in our lives emerges from the shadows of the sensational.”