The project was opened by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Minutes before the official launch Stuart Holmes, an anti-smoking protester, managed to clamber onto the plinth and displayed a banner calling for a ban on tobacco. Gormley urged him to do the “gentlemanly thing” and give up his place to the first official “plinther”, Rachel Wardell. He did so and descended in the cherry picker used to carry participants to and from the plinth.
Members of the public could apply for an hour on the plinth via the project’s website. Gormley himself applied but didn’t get a place. Reviewing the event afterwards, the Guardian’s top ten “plinthers” were:
Demolished a cardboard replica of the London skyline, dressed as Godzilla.
Constructed a full-size Gormley-style human figure from bread products.
Pitched a tent, from which a live chicken and two blow-up dolls emerged.
Steve Cousins (The Balloonatic)
Performed in a red catsuit with a large, red balloon.
Dressed as a football referee, Martin challenged members of the public and announced half-time.
Jonathan May-Bowles (Jonnie Marbles)
Invited members of the public to text their secrets to him, which were then read aloud.
Dressed as a living statue of Lord Nelson, in an echo of Nelson’s Column.
Sat in a wheelchair wearing a Nazi military uniform, as a political statement on the rights of disabled people.
Posed naked as if for a life study.
Performed a succession of scientific experiments submitted by the public, including an experiment with a tin can telephone.
On 14 July at 8.00 pm, poet R. N. Taber read a selection of his poems, while photographer Alex Boyd collaborated with Scottish Makar (Poet Laureate) Edwin Morgan for his time on the plinth. On 12 August at 1 am, a naked plinther was asked to cover up by the police.
Streamed live online by SkyArts, the exhibit quickly developed a cadre of regular Twitter followers who provided a running commentary of events on the plinth.
“The only condition of fighting for the right to create is faith in your own vocation, readiness to serve, and refusal to compromise.”
“Always with huge gratitude and pleasure I remember the films of Sergei Parajanov which I love very much. His way of thinking, his paradoxical, poetical . . . ability to love the beauty and the ability to be absolutely free within his own vision.”
“Art could be said to be a symbol of the universe, being linked with that absolute spiritual truth which is hidden from us in our positivistic, pragmatic activities.”
“For the first time in the history of the arts, in the history of culture, man found the means to take an impression of time…That is the sense in which the Lumiere brothers were the first to contain the seed of a new aesthetic principle. But immediately afterwards, cinema turned aside from art, forced down the path that was the safest from the point of view of philistine interest and profit”.
“I reject the principles of “montage cinema” because they do not allow the film to continue beyond the edges of the screen: they do not allow the audience to bring personal experience to bear on what is in front of them on-screen”
“Devoid of spirituality, art carries its own tragedy within it…..The true artist always serves immortality, striving to immortalise the world and the man within the world”.
“Art must transcend as well as observe”.
“A work becomes dated as a result of the conscious effort to be expressive and contemporary”.
“I think that one of the saddest aspects of our time is the total destruction of people’s awareness of all that goes with a conscious sense of the beautiful. Modern mass culture, aimed at the “consumer”, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls, setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being.”
“The aim of art is to prepare a person for death”.