If you have passed through Trafalgar Square recently you could not have failed to notice the Square’s most recent addition. The infamous fourth plinth which has seen the like of a giant blue cock (the chicken of course), a hotel model, a pregnant torso, and a giant ship in a bottle has remained predominantly empty following William IV’s failed attempts to erect a statue of himself. Following the Fourth Plinth Project, (1998-2001) in 2003 the plinth was officially transferred from Westminster City Council to the Mayor of London giving birth to the Fourth Plinth Commission headed up by the Mayor of London’s Culture Team.
In what seems like a year plucked from a dystopian novel David Shrigley’s commission of “Really Really Good” aims to shine a little positivity in the downbeat capital. The 7m high black bronze elongated thumbs up is now the 11th commission for the plinth by Macclesfield-born artist David Shrigley who himself has been previously nominated for the Turner Prize. He has had recent solo exhibitions at Auckland Arts Festival, New Zealand (2015) and Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2014). Shrigley’s Pass the Spoon was performed at Tramway, Glasgow, and Southbank Centre, London (2011-12), and he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2013.The slightly sarcastic piece provides a lighthearted jab at British optimism and can be viewed until mid-next year. And if seeing the piece is not enough, there are copious amounts of merchandise which can be purchased from the major galleries.
Love it or hate it the piece is a certain hit with tourists but there is perhaps more to the jarring ugliness of the piece. The elongation of the thumb, while to many is oddly phallic, poses a strange juxtaposition to Nelson’s column itself. The dark patina is in line with the other statues in the Square and Nelson himself atop the plinth. And so despite its bold subject, it blends with its surroundings with a clever subtlety, unexpected from a 7m thumb. The thumbs up is a quintessentially British symbol, but something equally British is our optimism in a bleak landscape, maintaining the status quo. In that case, this giant thumb is maybe not so unusual after all.