Thursday, 9 July 2009

Plinther Pigeon

I've got a place on the Trafalgar Square Plinth end of August. They've given me a prime time slot on a Saturday afternoon so I figure I should do something other than just sit there looking vaguely queasy.
I think it would be amusing to dress up as a pigeon and sit on the plinth. My plan so far is to make a large but light pigeon costume and then attach a small action man/barbie type doll to my cycle helmet, thereby reversing the pattern of the other plinth residents.
I'll chart the progress of this pigeon suit on this blog. This morning I ordered some hoola hoops to form the structure of the suit. It would have been nice to get all four sizes of readily available hoops and do a graduated shape, but that seemed a bit extravagant. I have ordered some small and medium hoops (45 and 75 cm). I decided 75cm was wide enough after a few minutes with a tape measure and a little wriggling - that should make me look quite large without stopping me sitting down.
I have some fabric that looks like chicken wire but is light and floppy. I'll sew the hoops to that so that I make a large crinoline structure that hangs from my shoulders rather than my waist. I can then sew a variety of feathers to this - anyone wanting to send me a feather from an A4 size bit of cloth please do so. The feathers need to be light but don't need to have any structure as the undercarriage will provide all the shape needed. They need to be able to cope with rain in case it is pouring down. I also want the suit to be ok if it is scorching hot, so the open structure of the mesh fabric will be useful.
I'll photograph progress as it happens....

well, best intentions to chart progress have fallen by the wayside as other more exciting things fill my time. It is now post-plinth day. I made my pigeon suit, and I mounted a model of Anthony Gormley's Iron Man statue on a cycle helmet and covered the helmet with Grey cloth. I stitched on eyes and mounted a beak, and at the last minute also attached a dragonfly I had made from knitted fine silver wire and machine embroidered vanishing fabric - just a whim, and only because I had to take down a craft exhibition on the Wednesday before the Saturday sitting.
When I tested the costume by sitting on a garden table and getting Rod to photograph me i thought I looked a lot like statues of the mature Queen Victoria, so I decided I needed an orb and scepter equivalent. This was an egg and a stick, of course. I made the egg by blowing up a balloon, tieing string around to give a basic non-slip structure and a handle, and then papier machieing it with strips of newspaper and pva glue. I didn't use pulp as that is yucky and a friend said she tried that and the stuff all fell off. It worked well, and I painted it with acrylic glue to make it a brownish colour.
We allowed extra time for the drive down in case there were traffic jams, but apart from a slowish bit as we passed Oxford, with a queue in the exit lane, the journey was great. Arriving, therefore, far too early, we had lunch in an Italian cafe and then caught a taxi to Trafalgar Square. The taxi-driver said I was his first plinther. He talked about several of the people he had seen do things, so it is clear that as the taxi's swirl around the roads they do notice what is going on on the plinth.
At the One&Other office I had to show my passport and driving licence to prove with a photo id and an address that I was who I was supposed to be. I had my bags searched. I had already been told I couldn't take on fire, glass or fire-arms, but was a bit surprised when reluctance or at least hesitation was shown over my stick that I was going to clutch. They didn't want anything that might fall through the net and hurt someone. I was then interviewed and photographed, first in my normal clothes (not that normal as I was wearing my amazing Physalis earrings by Nora Fok) and then in my costume. The interview was taped for the oral history project the Welcome Trust is running. I was asked all sorts of questions, not just about the plinth project. The only thing that flummoxed me was when I was asked for my view on art.
I was shown the cherry picker used to transport people to and from the plinth. They are lovely big green and yellow machines, gleaming and serviced every two days by the JCB staff. I then had a microphone put on me - I was surprised by this, thought in retrospect that was surprising in itself. I suppose I had thought the mics were built into the cameras. I hadn't intended to do anything but sit quietly, but once I was mic'ed (how on earth is that word spelt, everything looks odd) up I ran a commentary, and burbled on about anything that came into my head. If you watch the coverage you can see that the camera operator is paying attention, as the camera swivels to take in the topic of conversation.
Once up on the plinth everything seemed very peaceful. The square bustled with people, there were breakdancers in front of the national gallery, deckchairs full of people enjoying the sun, and general milling. I had worried that I would feel vertiginous, which is why I had planned a stationary activity, but I didn't notice that at all. The safety net probably stopped any of that - I thought it might not as it is horizontal below the level of the plinth, but it is very visible.
I had been warned that the guides in the open topped buses might shout out to me and I was just to ignore them. Only once called out, very politely, to ask if I was a pigeon, so I called back that I was. There are several trees between the road and the plinth where the buses paused, and I could see people craning to see properly.
Rod wandered around in the square below to tell people what I was doing if they seemed interested. He pointed out that I got a great cheer when I went up and when I left, which was lovely. One person has put a picture up on the&Other website through Flikr saying they didn't know what I represented and that I just sat there the whole time. I know some people would be bored by the way I just sat there, rather than doing some performance that engaged the passers by. If you watch the SkyTv show they really only like the ones that do a lot. However, Anthony Gormley himself said he was happy with the people that just used their time to sit there quietly, so I reckon that is ok. After all, the other plinth occupants in the square don't move at all.
Overall I would say it was a highly amusing event to participate in and I have no regrets about joining in. I wish I had realised my costume was caught on the stool so I didn't look like a proper round pigeon, and I wish I'd used some pins to stop the fabric blowing up ( quite and updraft on the plinth). It would also have been better to have spoken more clearly/had the mic in a different position, as the background noise in the square is very load, with the fountain, the sirens and the general traffic and people noise. We both had fun and Rod enjoyed being support staff for a change.