[You can watch it here: - www.oneandother.co.uk/participants/Jensen]
One must always bare in mind the often overlooked power of a single thoughtful person. Though we are often unaware of the impact we can potentially make, we must attempt to prepare ourselves. This thought was brought to me from my recent experience as a plinther. That is, being a lucky participant in One and Other, Antony Gormley’s new art installation.
Being up on the Forth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was one of the most unprepared moments of my life. It was like approaching one of the seven wonders, or the peak of a mountain; there is simply no way of knowing how you will react.
When confronted by such opportunities, a more refined soul might have gone up with a speech prepared. I might have preached, screamed, recited or otherwise constructed some form of sentiment that would have undoubtedly taken the moment away from me. I might well have run for an hour like a robot, speaking words that I’d pawed over for weeks in advance. Not so for the willful creature that I am.
Instead I listened a little too intently to a small voice from within that said ‘you need only ‘be’!’ I decided to go up, no props, no gimmicks - just a lone soft machine, held aloft for an hour.
I would say even now, that was/is enough.
Art itself (for the most part) cannot alter its form to better suit the audience before it. Once it is produced it is cast in that form. The painting cannot gain another few brushstrokes, to add more colour here or focus the eye there, just because the person seeing it would find it easier to understand. It can but assume a lasting posture and only stand by and weather the praise and criticism it receives with equal solemnity.
I went up there to ask the world questions more directly than most art does, to be a mirror that might allow people to see something of themselves whilst speaking a language they themselves spoke in. I went up there to do what art does, not interact with the audience around me, but to get the audience to engage with itself.
The truth is we make art to remind us of what will always remain important. We don’t make it as a target for our insults, or produce it so that it will locked away. We want it to be shown to an audience, to tell a story, to make a point, to request more of ourselves than is polite to ask in person. We use art to crack open the human spirit.
Of course I am referring to art as generalized art, that of the gallery displays (paintings primarily, or perhaps music also, certainly the photograph), rather than the more innovative methods that artists now engage in. I know full well that art does not stick to its definitions, by definition it is endlessly re-educating us of limitless features.
So, I got up on that stone pillar with the idea that I’d more clearly do what art does. So that I might connect more directly with people and get the message across. My mission was to Raise Awareness for Awareness. I wanted people simply to start asking themselves questions.
Back to the experience itself, once up there I lost my words and almost my balance.
We cannot know our qualities until we have been tested to our limit. So all I could comfortably expect of myself was that I would continue to breathe and that my heart would beat (albeit madly).
When I got up there I had no idea that I would lose much of myself to nerves. There is a lot to be said for the written language (and much has been); however, I more admire anyone who can stand to speak and explain their message with clarity. I do not have the ability to speak easily in public, though I do now intend to improve.
In any case I am happy that, with that small sight of my limits, I was inspired.
I’ve come off the plinth with a renewed acknowledgment of myself, but also of the influence and inspiration I have to offer. I met and spoke with many people and the reactions have been incredible.
People do want to talk, people do want to learn why things are the way they are. Even those who initially became hostile in the face of art, grew later (after conversation/explanation) to understand. They too added their own voice and perspective to the endeavor.
I may have been alone, an example of a young man with a lot (perhaps too much) on his mind; but no-one was unworthy of a place there on that plinth and those who asked questions took their place alongside me.
Now uniquely aware of how much impact a single soft machine can make when placed in the right location. My plan is to go on putting myself in challenging places, to do what I think is good and right and just. To ignore the voices that want me down on their level and to use my own to lift others out of the flood of indifference.
I’ve shaken a dozen hands, hugged people who were strangers, dealt with the irrepressible masses and I have come out of the experience; not better, nor worse, but different.