Marc Quinn and Alison Lapper at the launch. © James Jenkins.
The latest artwork to grace the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was unveiled on September 15 at a public ceremony attended by the artist Marc Quinn and his subject, Alison Lapper.
The sculpture now sitting on the plinth is a three-and-a-half metre-high representation of disabled artist Alison Lapper when she was eight months pregnant. Alison Lapper Pregnant was chosen from a shortlist of six in March 2004, and will remain in position for 18 months.
“Marc Quinn has created an artwork that is a potent symbol and is a great addition to London,” said the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who endorsed and unveiled the sculpture. “It is a work about courage, beauty and defiance, which both captures and represents all that is best about our great city. Alison Lapper pregnant is a modern heroine – strong, formidable and full of hope. It is a great work of art for London and for the world.”
Alison Lapper Pregnant on the plinth, with the National Gallery behind. © James Jenkins.
Alison Lapper, a friend of Marc Quinn, was born with no arms and shortened legs due to a chromosomal condition called Phocomelia. Her mother rejected her and she was brought up in a care home. Now a recognized artist, she was awarded an MBE in 2003 and featured with her son in the BBC series Child of Our Time.
“I regard it as a modern tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood,” said Alison of Quinn's work. “It is so rare to see disability in everyday life – let alone naked, pregnant and proud. The sculpture makes the ultimate statement about disability – that it can be as beautiful and valid a form of being as any other.”
Marc Quinn often addresses issue of mortality and survival in his work, having come to notoriety with his work Self (1991), a refrigerated cast of his own head made with nine pints of his blood. His intention with Alison Lapper Pregnant is that the 13 tonne white marble sculpture will contrast directly with the overwhelmingly triumphant male statuary in Trafalgar Square.
“I felt that the Square could do with some femininity,” he said, “linking with Boudicca near the Houses of Parliament. Alison’s statue could represent a new model of female heroism.”
“For me, Alison Lapper Pregnant is a monument to the future possibilities of the human race as well as the resilience of the human spirit,” he added.
Marc Quinn with the artwork in Pietresanta, Italy. Courtesy Sponsorship Consulting.
Of course, there is another example of disability in the square already – Nelson has only one arm. Some critics feel that the new artwork is inappropriate for the square, which is dedicated British military achievement. Others commend the high profile the piece gives to a minority group.
The fourth plinth, in the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square, remained empty after it was installed in 1841 due to a lack of funds for the proposed equestrian statue. In 1998, the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) commissioned a series of three works to be temporarily displayed on the plinth: Ecce Homo (Mark Wallinger, 1999), Regardless of History (Bill Woodrow, 2000) and Monument (Rachel Whiteread, 2001).
The project was perceived so well that an independent committee recommended to the Government that more artworks should be commissioned for the plinth. The Mayor’s office appointed a panel of specialist advisors – the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group – to oversee the ongoing programme of commissions.
Sandy Nairne, Chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, said: “This is one of the most important public art commissions in recent years. It is an exciting work for Trafalgar Square and the Fourth Plinth and an outstanding achievement by Marc Quinn.”
The statue being prepared for its journey to London. Courtesy Sponsorship Consulting.
“Although crafted in the ancient quarries on Italy,” he continued, “Alison Lapper Pregnant is a sculpture for our own time which will be compelling for millions of people.”
The Fourth Plinth has been supported by Arts Council England, Arup Associates, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Haran Glass, Hare Structural Engineers, Moose Foundation for the Arts, the Trafalgar Square Hilton and the Independent on Sunday.
“The Fourth Plinth is one of the most important and vital public art commissions in the UK,” said Sarah Weir, Regional Executive Director, Arts Council London. “The Arts Council is committed to promoting art in the public realm and is pleased to have given financial support to ensure this vital first round of commissions. We look forward to seeing an ongoing programme of exciting, imaginative and stimulating work on the Fourth Plinth and are proud to be a part of the project.”
The next piece to take the pedestal, in 2007, will be Hotel for the Birds by Thomas Schütte.