Last week, the latest artwork to be installed on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth was unveiled. It is called ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ by Michael Rakowitz and is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans. The sculpture recreates ‘Lamassu’; a winged deity which stood guarding a gate near modern day Mosul from c700BC until 2015 when it was destroyed by Isis. It is just one of 7,000 such objects either destroyed or stolen from Iraqi museums or archaeological sites since 2003. For over a decade, Rakowitz has been attempting to recreate these objects as part of an ongoing project.
London has a plethora of statues of what I tend to just call ‘Dead White Men’ and when Trafalgar Square was originally developed in the first years of the 1840s, four such statues were planned. Charles Napier, Henry Havelock and King George IV can still be seen today, but the final statue of King William IV was never installed due to insufficient funds. Designed by Sir Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament), they got as far as constructing the plinth before calling it quits. I imagine it was always anticipated that the requisite money would be found, but 150 years later and London was still no nearer to getting its statue on what had become known as the ‘fourth plinth’.
In the mid 1990s, Prue Leith, then Chair of the Royal Society of Arts suggested something should be done about Trafalgar Square’s lonely plinth, and five years later, artist Mark Wallinger’s sculpture ‘Ecce Homo’ became the first artwork to find a temporary home there, gazing down on the tourists and pigeons.
Since 2005, the fourth plinth has become an official commission, a stage for rolling artworks which Londoners get to vote for. In recent years, many of the artworks have sought to reflect their immediate environment or the history of the square. Hans Haacke’s ‘Gift Horse’ (2015) brought together the National Gallery through English painter George Stubbs, alluding to the equestrian statue that should have adorned the plinth originally, whilst quite literally being tied to the London Stock Exchange through a ticker tape ribbon. Elmgreen & Dragset’s ‘Powerless Structures, Fig.101’ depicting a boy on a rocking horse turning away from the other statues; quite possibly suggesting we should look towards the future rather than constantly back at the past (which we do) began its shift in 2010. Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ (2010) was obviously a direct nod towards Horatio Nelson who stands high over Trafalgar Square. The sails of Shonibare’s replica ship, the HMS Victory were made from patterned textiles typical of African dress, hinting towards the legacy of British colonialism and the expansion of the British Empire made possible by Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar.
There’s been a couple of slightly more irreverent sculptures such as last years ‘Really Good’ by David Shrigley which I was a fan of, but I like the fact that Rakowitz’s current offering is casting the net wider and tackling the wholesale loss and destruction of historical and cultural artefacts on a vast scale; a catastrophe made possible after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which our own government was complicit. At a time when people seem to be looking inwards and isolationism and nationalism are rampant, I’m pleased that Michael Rakowitz has been given a prominent stage for the next couple of years to hopefully encourage us to look up, widen our horizons and give people the opportunity to reflect on just one small repercussion of what is termed the ‘fog of war’.
I look forward to discussing it with people in the future and see what visitors to London make of Trafalgar Square’s latest adornment.
Since 2005, the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square has had a revolving exhibition of art works. This has been possible for the very simple fact that when the square was being developed in the 1840s, they ran out of money and never got around to putting the proposed statue of William IV on it. Over the last couple of years we've seen a golden boy on a rocking horse and a big blue cock come and go, and last week the newest addition to Trafalgar Square was unveiled by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It's called 'Gift Horse' and has been produced by a German Sculptor called Hans Haacke.
A shortlist of 6 contenders is usually drawn up and I guess all the artists are looking to either comment on the space their work will inhabit for 18 months, or make a bold statement of some sort. Back in 2010 Yinka Shonibare put a massive ship in a bottle up there. The ship was of course Horatio Nelson's ship, the HMS Victory and with Nelson himself being the most prominent resident of the square and the fact that the square itself is named after the battle in which he died on board that ship in 1805, it seemed to tick quite a few boxes. Last years 'Hahn / Cock' by Katharina Fritsch seems to have been chosen purely on account of the fact that as the French national emblem it seemed to be rubbing French noses in it ... again. Annoying the French is of course a national pastime. I think Katharina herself suggested it was a comment on the rather phallic centre piece of Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Column. You can see both pictured below.
In 'Gift Horse', Hans Haacke gave himself the best possible chance by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. The sculpture itself is apparently based on an etching of a horse by George Stubbs which can be found in the National Gallery about 20 yards away from the plinth. Although, a skeleton, it is still officially a horse, so gives a nod back to the original design of the square and the equestrian statue that never was. Tied around the front leg of the horse is a ribbon on which, if you look closely, is a ticker of the London Stock Exchange, which means very little to me. However, apparently when the whole ensemble is considered as one, it shows the correlation between 'power, money and history'. You could of course add to that list ... art. So there, you have it. I guess, at the end of the day, if some people don't like it, which is inevitable, it's not going to be around for ever. I'm not meaning to belittle 'Gift Horse' so soon after its arrival, but I have to say, that I'm very much looking forward to 2016 and the proposed sculpture 'Really Good' by excellently irreverent artist David Shrigley.
Finally, I took the group photo of Colleen, Matt, Louise and Michael who joined me for my regular Saturday morning walk yesterday with Trafalgar Square's newest edition behind them.
I'm a little bit late rounding up some of the private walks did in May, which are, just to remind you, walks that I do (usually during the week) for couples, families, groups and wot not. They're all tailor made walks, taking people around places they have told me they'd like to visit, things they'd like to see or hear about. Depending on where people are staying I often go and pick them up from their hotel, or we sort out a meeting point. So, to give you an idea, here are a few I did in May.
So ... starting with the top left. Bernadette & David came on one of my regular weekend walks ages ago, and asked me to do one for just them and their friends. They requested a walk around east London, as it wasn't an area they were too familiar with although one of them had worked there years ago, so was able to offer some of his own unique insights. They're sitting in Arnold Circus by-the-way, which was the first Council Estate in the UK, built in the 1890s. Next up, we have Jeff and his family visiting from the States outside St Paul's cathedral. Bottom left was one of the quickest walks ever. Chris, Craig, Alexis and Bailey were on a stop over at Heathrow airport. It was going to be short anyway, but then they were delayed, so I think after I met them in Westminster, we had about an hour and a half to whizz round all the sights in that area. They even managed to fit in a pint in a pub before getting back on the tube ... which had been one of the criteria. Lastly, we have Kelly and Jacqui visiting London from New Zealand before heading off around the UK on motorbikes. They're standing in Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery behind them.
On this lot of photos you can see Tess in the Dean's Yard at Westminster School. She was visiting from Canada, so when she told me that her grandfather had been in the RAF during WWII, we made a detour to visit the church of St Clement Danes, otherwise known as the RAF church. Standing on Hungerford Bridge with the City of London behind them is a lovely group of ladies who were visiting from Sweden. Outside Westminster Abbey we have the Troy family from the States, and last but not least Robin and Denis standing by the original site of the Globe Theatre, down on Bankside.
June is completely booked up now for private walks, but if you're interested in having a wander around London in July or August, do get in touch and we'll see if we can sort something out.
We had a nice couple of walks this weekend, with a healthy number of Londoners out to explore their own city, alongside visitors from further afield. Saturday morning kicked off with a group of 11 hailing from Australia, the States, Holland and Finsbury Park amongst other places. Here they all are in Trafalgar Square, one of the first stops on the walk, after which we weaved through Covent Garden and Fleet Street en route to St Paul's cathedral.
The man on the left with the rather pink pushchair (and baby) was not actually on our walk, but men with pink pushchairs are of course very welcome.
On Sunday, Rob & Els, who had been on the Saturday walk returned to explore east London and were joined by fellow Dutch visitors Anna, Chantal and Jane (or Jannika) who was also celebrating her birthday. The group was further bolstered by Tracy, Troy and Nick and completed by my old friend Steve and his lady friend Amalia who was also celebrating her birthday (although hers had officially been on Friday). So, all in all it was a pretty birthday-tastic walk.
Here they all are standing next to Syd's Coffee Stall on the corner of Calvert Avenue and Shoreditch High Street. It has been there since 1919 when Sydney Tothill returned from the trenches of the First World War and used his invalidity pension to construct a small tea and coffee stand, which is still run today by his grand daughter Jane.
Tallest - Rob
Best ear warmers - Gabbi and Laura
Best Moustache - Ryan
Name most likely to make you think of the Trojan war - Troy
Most Dutch group - Sunday
My weekend of guided walks around London got off to start by checking out German artist, Katharina Fritsch's big blue cock in Trafalgar Square. Unveiled just two days earlier on the permanently redundant but most in the news, fourth plinth, Fritsch's sculpture has not surprisingly been effortlessly filling column inches with double entendres ever since. Without meaning to add to this, I have to say, that it was much bigger than I expected. I think it's good, that despite all our previous attempts to look back at how amazing we are, the battles we have won and the war heroes who made it possible, we still have a bit of a sense of humour, a bit of perspective and that now, we don't perhaps take ourselves quite so seriously. The previous sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse seemed to be another example of this and the current offering is certainly continuing the tradition.
The group of 14 hailed from Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand and the Peak District amongst other places. Mandy was back for her third walk with me and the rest were all first timers. Here they all are in Covent Garden on our way to St Paul's cathedral.
In the afternoon I was delighted that Zayn and Alan were able to come on another walk, a year and a bit after their first one. We had a leisurely meander from St Paul's cathedral over to Bankside, then back across London Bridge to finish at Monument. Here they are standing in front of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the faithful recreation of an Elizabethan theatre. Its very existence is owed to Sam Wanamaker who unfortunately died shortly before he saw over two decades work come to fruition. I think I've mentioned this before, but even so, I'll mention it again ... in January 2014, the Globe will be opening the only indoor, candle-lit theatre in London, a recreation of a Jacobean theatre. Aside from being an exciting prospect and one which will allow them to perform plays all the year round, it will also mean that the only thatched roof in London, and the only candle-lit theatre will be right next to each other.
On Sunday, seven people joined me for a wander around east London. Martin from Philadelphia, who to all intents and purposes sounded completely American, had, it turned out, actually spent the first eight years of his life in Dalston, just up the road. Katherine was the only fully fledged Londoner in that respect whilst Jennie & Rees were down from Manchester for the weekend. Tobias and Kirsten from Germany have been living in the UK for about 14 years so were quite well versed in all things Londony. Here they all are just by Hoxton Square, with one of street artist Stik's instantly recognisable murals behind them.
Special Award for completing the 'BOC Trilogy' - Mandy
First person to come on two walks & have a completely different name each time - Zayn
Most likely to want to stand in the shade - Sonia, Vijyant & Ananya
Quietest - Josh
Best multi-tasker - Quentin
I know we're already half way through July, but I thought I'd just post a little thing about some of the 'private walks' I did in June. Just in case you're wondering, I do my regular 'pay what you want' walks around London most weekends, but during the week I also do private tours for groups, families, couples, birthdays, work outings and that kind of thing. They're pretty much tailor made to each individual group, so I might meet them at their hotel, or at a station or somewhere-else and we explore London, based on what they want to see or their interests and stuff like that.
It would seem that in June, we spent a bit of time hanging around with the Queen's Guard at St James's Palace and Horse Guards. They're quite easy to hang around with as they tend to stand really, really still. The last photo is of Lisa and her family outside Buckingham Palace. Although you can't see any guards, there was actually hundreds of them passing by on horse back, as we stumbled in to the midst of the dress rehearsal for 'Trooping The Colour', the week before The Queen's official birthday. Since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, these guys and now girls have been responsible for guarding the Royal palaces.
We did do other things aside from taking photos with guards. I did a couple of walks around east London, which inevitably involves a bit of street art. Shyam was over on business from Canada and staying near Liverpool Street so wanted to explore around that area. You can see him next to Richard Rogers Lloyd's building which was finished in 1986 and was said to look like someone had dropped an oil rig in to the City of London. Despite the modern appearance of the building, the company themselves have a colourful 325 year history which can be traced back to a 17th century coffee house ... called Edward Lloyd's. Nazatul and her family are pictured in Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column behind them.
The photos below show Penny Bond and her crew from Canada in St James's park and John and Susan on London Bridge. Kim and Ciera are standing by some 17th century waterman's steps, which now stand quite far from the Thames, but once was a gateway from the river to a mansion called York House, which belonged to George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the steps built ... hence the nearby Villiers Street. Mehul and Neha from the States are relaxing in one of Westminster Abbey's cloisters.
So, as you can see ... we managed to explore quite a bit of London.
On my Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, I've often mentioned the Hawks employed by Westminster Council to deter the pesky pigeons, which until a few years ago numbered in their thousands ... probably tens of thousands, mainly on the square itself. I'd never seen this particular form of pest control in action, then, on my way to meet Dan, Liz and Josh who came on Saturday morning's walk, I bumped in to 'Chengeta' and his handler. They looked very much like this:
Quite an impressive specimen, I think you'll agree, and the Hawk looked pretty cool too. The handler told me that he was from Zimbabwe, and in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, Chengeta means 'to take care of', so basically Chengeta the Hawk is taking care of the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. He said I could also call him Harry if I wanted (which I figured the other handlers probably do), and although Harry the Hawk has a nice ring to it, I quite like Chengeta.
The walk on Saturday basically involved lounging around drinking coffee or sitting in a pub, punctuated by a brief stroll through Covent Garden and Fleet Street. Here are the group in the Charles Dickens Coffee House, situated on the ground floor of a building in which Dickens himself had an office and produced a literary magazine entitled 'All The Year Round'.
'All The Year Round' was founded and edited by Dickens and published between 1859 - 1895, and as well as being a platform for many other writers, Dickens used it to serialise his own novels including 'A Tale of Two Cities' and 'Great Expectations'. Also, thanks to Dan for the coffee and chocolatey treats.
Sunday's 'My neck of the woods' east end walk saw the return of Maria and Emma who came on a Saturday afternoon walk in April last year. They were accompanied by Rosalia, Steve and Conor, and also John, Ryan and Anna all joining a walk for the first time. Here they are outside one of street artist Eine's shop shutters.
Shortly after we'd stopped off at Columbia Road Flower Market, I noticed a piece by French street artist C215. His real name is Christian Guémy and works primarily using stencils, similar to Banksy and a host of other artists. The 'C' stands for Christian, and the 215 part of his name was apparently the number of the hotel room he was staying in when he decided that painting portraits of beggars, refugees, orphans and animals on streets all over the world, was to become his vocation.
Funnily enough, ages ago, I took the below photo of another of C215's cats, which was on the side of a bin just behind Leonard Street. I noticed not long ago that the bin has since disappeared. The work of a collector perhaps?
Most appropriate shoes (for a change) - Maria
Most likely to have played a gig in every venue in Shoreditch - John
Tallest - Ryan
Best moustache - No winners
Most beardy - Josh
Most rural - Dan & Liz
Most New Zealand-ish - Anna
I was incredibly impressed that people actually bothered or were able to turn up this weekend, what with all the snow and general coldness. Top marks for effort everyone.
On Saturday morning, I met Mackenzie, Wendy, Erica and April for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. Just to give you an idea of the temperature, or lack of it, the fountains in Trafalgar Square looked like this:
Here are the group, standing in front of the statue of George Washington, which is situated outside the National Gallery (the building you can see above). Seeing as they were a group of American's, and George Washington was the first President of the United States, it seemed an appropriate place to take the photo.
There's a nice little story about that statue, which is that Washington apparently said that he never wanted to set foot in London again, so when the statue was given as a gift in 1921 by the people of Virginia, they sent over a load of American soil with it to be laid underneath, so that he never would. A bit cheeky perhaps.
On Sunday it snowed non stop for the entire My neck of the Woods walk, but Zuzana, Guglielmo and Mary still valiantly turned up to wander around the east end, Mary (from the USA) incidentally, was on her second Bowl Of Chalk, after coming on one last year. It was my first ever walk in the snow, so was interesting to see how everything looked under a blanket of white. Here they are at Arnold Circus, the first council estate in England, completed in 1896 and featured not long ago, in a BBC2 series called The Secret History of Our Streets.
Here are a few other snowy scenes we saw along the way.
Not surprisingly, Columbia Road Flower Market was pretty sparse but it at least meant that Mary and the other two were able to have a good look around the many independent shops that line the road and are pretty much only open on Sundays. Incidentally, the pub you can see there in the photo, The Royal Oak has featured in a few TV shows and films, including 'Goodnight Sweetheart' (with Nicholas Lyndhurst, best know for playing Rodney Trotter in 'Only Fools and Horses') and Guy Ritchie's 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'.
Many of the houses in the area of Spitalfields where I took the above photo were built in the early 1700's to house the influx of French Huguenots who had settled in the area in the 17th Century. Also, whilst I'm thinking about it, there's a great blog called 'Spitalfields Life' written by The Gentle Author who has set himself (or herself?) the challenge of writing 10,000 stories about the area, the fascinating characters that live there, shops, customs, history and much more. The project should be completed in the year 2037, but one volume has already been published as a book. It's well worth having a read if you are of even a mildly curious disposition.
Most Italian - Guglielmo
Most likely to be celebrating her 40th birthday - Wendy
Best moustache - No winners
Best named person to meet in Old Street - Mary Young
Most bobbly hat - Zuzana
So, I've got three recent walks to include in the roundup. The first was on Thursday evening. I was asked to take a company based on Rivington Street, (in Shoreditch) on a Christmas Party-esque type of walk around east London. Although they were all of normal height, with one above average (I would say), they were a small company. They'd booked a table at the infamous Ten Bells pub just next to Old Spitalfields market, so that's where we finished. Here they are outside the Ten Bells.
The Ten Bells, built in the mid 18th Century is infamous (as I have already mentioned), because of its connection with Jack The Ripper and the murders that took place around the Whitechapel area in 1888 and 1889. All of the victims were prostitutes, and the final Ripper victim is thought to be Mary Kelly, whose 'patch' was outside the Ten Bells and was the only one who was not murdered out on the street, but in her lodgings nearby. The Ten Bells' name changed to 'The Jack The Ripper' in the 1980's but I think someone pointed out that they were basically glorifying someone who murdered women, so they changed it back.
On Saturday morning, I did my regular walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's and was joined by Lawrence and Jerome from Singapore and Chris from the States.
Here they are standing outside what is generally regarded as Britain's smallest Police station, fitted snugly inside a hollowed out light fitting on the south eastern side of Trafalgar Square. It was installed in 1926 and also apparently served as a lock-up for drunk and disorderly types, although you could only get two of them in there ... at a push. My most recent inspection reveals that it contains a few bags of salt / grit and some brooms.
For Sunday's wander around the east end I was joined by an international quartet of Emilia, Anna, Vera and Vincy, hailing from Poland, Germany, Spain (via Austria) and Hong Kong if my memory serves me correctly. Here they are in Old Street, by what has been dubbed the 'Silicon Roundabout', home to an array of tech based, internet start-ups.
The area been in the news over the last week or so, because David Cameron (the Prime Minister) has pledged £50million to regenerate Old Street roundabout in to a super duper civic hub type place dedicated to tech start ups complete with a 400-seat auditorium and other shiny digital things. I think it's government money he's pledging ... not his own.
Coldest walk - Thursday night's east end walk
Group most eager to find a pub - Thursday night's east end walk
Best moustache - No winners
Youngest - Jerome
Most American - Chris
Best English accent for a non English person - Vera (Germany)
There were two very different weather type walks last weekend. On Saturday, Katherine, Doug, Jen and Rhiannon endured three hours of non stop drizzle on their walk from Trafalgar Square to St. Paul's. We couldn't walk through Trafalgar Square because it was closed off and littered with various types of armoured vehicles and there was apparently a 'rehearsal' of some sort going on. There didn't seem to be much happening, but I discovered that the following day, Tom Cruise was filming something or other there. oooh.
Here are the group sheltering beneath their umbrellas on Fleet Street. The sun didn't come out, so maybe we weren't smiling enough.
Sunday was much sunnier, and we traded in the rain for a bit of wind. I was joined by a group of thirteen ... yep, thirteen (a bumperish group) which included a couple of Londoners, a handful of Americans, a half Canadian/Italian, someone from Durham, an Australian and I think also a South African along with a few others.
Here they are just by Columbia Road flower market, which is already starting to get chock full with Christmas Trees.
During our walk, we spotted street artist Jimmy C (AKA James Cochrane) daubing some new work on the Foundry, an old bank between Old Street and Great Eastern Street. He was in the news during the Olympics for painting a large mural of Usain Bolt near Brick Lane and is well know for the almost pointillist technique he uses. Anyway ... after the walk, I spotted him being interviewed infront one of his new just completed works. I've mentioned him before and people on my Sunday walk always love the work he's done on Whitby Street (amongst others). Good work Mr Cochrane.
Umbrella with the most frogs on it - Rhiannon
Shiniest silver trainers - Loriana
Most likely to buy Christmas Pudding themed truffles - Tori
Best moustache - No winners
Latest - Ellinor
Mother & Daughter combo - Jenny & Anna
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.