The Scandinavian duo on taking over Trafalgar Square with their latest work, 'Powerless Structures Fig. 101'
An oversize statue of a young boy gleefully grinning down at the square from his apparently Ikea-flatpack rocking horse now occupies the infamous Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth. His gleaming youthful exuberance poised in joyful abandon is pitted against an imbued and staid image of militaristic British masculinity embodied by the adjacent bronze equestrian statues of George IV and Charles I.
We wanted to create another image of masculinity than the classic male images which were already established by the other sculptures in the square. However, he is a rather feminine boy
Creating a suggestion of innocence and hope in the face of the sombre and proud, 'Powerless Structures Fig. 101' initiates a dialogue with its surroundings, inviting visitors to the square to engage with an alternative vision of what public sculpture might look like were we to privilege different qualities in those that we idolise and hero-worship. Supported by Louis Vuitton, Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset have chosen to create a work that questions what has gone before and calls us to consider optimism over cynicism, which in battle-hardened times can only be a good thing.
Dazed Digital: How does it feel to have the work in place?
Elmgreen & Dragset: Good. For the Fourth Plinth there is no dress rehearsal!
DD: You work is often performative or confrontational in some way, this seems different in tone, was that a conscious decision?
Elmgreen & Dragset: Our formal language is not static but changes continuously according to context and our mood. We are not what you could call easily recognizable "logo-artists". We had a whole bunch of ideas when we started to think about what to do for the Fourth Plinth and then we filtered. It was more of a challenge not to be so loud in Trafalgar Square, we thought.
DD: The piece you had in Rotterdam's 'It's never too late to say sorry' was a very direct piece, did you ever consider something as forthright for this commission?
Elmgreen & Dragset: Well, Anthony Gormley already had done performances on the plinth so it would fall a bit flat to do that.
DD: There is a lack of cynicism here - the young boy represents innocence and the future in a celebratory and joyful way - why is this important now?
Elmgreen & Dragset: Do you think that we normally are cynical in our expressions? Haha. The sculpture of the boy appears rather fragile and subtle compared to the historic bronze statues. The most dangerous thing to do in public is to show that you are vulnerable and most people feel uncomfortable showing emotions when being outside their private sphere. If you start to cry - get a nervous breakdown or show too much affection in public - people might stare at you with disgust or even call the police.
DD: The boy is looking down and can catch the eye of the viewer as opposed to the other statues on the square looking into the distance. What's the significance of this eyeline?
Elmgreen & Dragset: The war heroes in the square obtain their identity from their pose rather than from their facial expressions. To us it was urgent to make our sculpture more human.
DD: Why a Rocking Horse and not a real pony?
Elmgreen & Dragset: Back and forth, back and forth.
DD: Why tarnished gold rather than mirror surface?
Elmgreen & Dragset: The mirrored surface would be too upfront for a work of this scale. It would easily just look "posh".
DD: Why a boy not a girl?
Elmgreen & Dragset: We wanted to create another image of masculinity than the classic male images which were already established by the other sculptures in the square. However, he is a rather feminine boy.
DD: What do you want the legacy of your Fourth Plinth to be?
Elmgreen & Dragset: That we contributed with project number 8 in an endless line of changing Fourth Plinth projects. Hopefully nothing will ever be placed permanently on that plinth!
Images by James O Jenkins