The voluminous groups of tourists who mill around one of central London’s most iconic open spaces in the next few months might unwittingly find themselves in for a shock. No, the bloke who levitates while dressed as Yoda hasn’t decided to pack it in and get a job at Goldman Sachs, and, no, the needlessly heavy doors that guard the great unwashed from the stacks of Taschen books at the National Gallery bookshop haven’t gotten any lighter overnight – but one of the UK’s most celebrated designers has been asked to install an interactive sculpture slap bang in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
Commissioned as part of the forthcoming London Design Festival 2018, Es’ work, titled Please Feed the Lions, will see her giving the four glum lions that have sat semi-sadly at the base of Nelson’s Column for the last 150 years a contemporary new look – and voice.
Es found herself walking through the square with Sir John Sorrel a year ago, and was overcome with a brainwave: what, she mused, if these previously silent big dogs of the big cat world found themselves possessed by poetry? What, she prophesied, if we worked with Google to produce tech which allowed an ever-evolving collective poem to be displayed on an LED embedded tongue in the mouth of a whole new lion that’d be unveiled on Monday the 17th of September? The stars aligned, the gods smiled, and Es’ wishes were granted.
By daylight, the lion will eat poetry via the process of deeply intuitive machine learning. By night, the poem will be projection-mapped over the lion and onto Nelson’s Column itself: a beacon of streaming text inviting others to join in and add their voice.
In addition to it being an intriguing and ingenious use of public space, the announcement of Please Feed the Lions also provided us with the kind of general knowledge nugget that could come oddly handy come a quiet evening amongst friends: those lolloping, lazy lions were meant to look a tad more animated but according to Es, “Queen Victoria found it too shocking.” The mind boggles.
Please Feed the Lions takes place 18-23 September 2018.