??ne & Other?is a fascinating public art event that’s taking place in London right now. Every hour until October 14, a different person climbs up onto the “fourth plinth” in Trafalgar Square, right slap bang in the heart of the city. He or she can use their hour in the spotlight to do whatever they want, whether that’s tout a cause, read a book, or, in the case of someone I watched last week, wear fairy wings and throw pieces of cake to the crowd gathered below (left).
Here’s why this matters. The man commissioned for the project, Antony Gormley, has taken the opportunity to foist his artistic vision on Londoners at large, and handed it to the larger community instead. (Also, check out some of the previous installations on the plinth, which has become a somewhat provocative venue for contemporary art.)
Gormley has given the platform to 2400 interested parties, who are entirely free to do whatever they want in their hour (as long as it’s legal.) In doing so, he’s shining a spotlight on the genetic make up of an entire country (while picked at random, the occupants represent a cross-section of British society.) It feels like a perfect metaphor for an age in which the playing field is level and companies and brands need to take part in a conversation with their consumers. It’s inclusive, it’s accepting, it’s provocative, it’s bound to be a bit boring or stupid at times, but it contains precisely the qualities that all companies should be looking to embrace.
A few years back, I visited the Guggenheim in New York, to see a performance by the legendary artist, Marina Abramovic. As visitors walked in, they were confronted by a majestic Abramovic, soaring over them as she stood on a plinth in the museum's rotunda. She wore a gorgeously opulent dress that stretched down and out, so she seemed like a giantess, gazing down, sparkly eyed on the gathered masses. (Image shown courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.)
I sat and stared at her for hours, and the experience was truly magical. The crowd was a part of the piece, every movement by every person became a part of the installation. How you responded was as important as Abramovic's own feat of endurance (she stood there for seven hours straight.)
And yet, while I truly loved the piece, the look-but-don't-touch gorgeousness and ego inherent in the piece now feel dated, somehow. Gormley's piece is brilliantly emblematic of our current time. Ego-free, the curator has put his audience in the center. As brands and companies learn to manage ideas of dialogue, of authenticity and transparency, they'd do well to learn from this experiment.