Gift Horse, by Hans Haacke, March 2015
It was a beautiful day to be in London, and Trafalgar Square is always a vibrant place to be – and inspiring.
The sculpture on the fourth plinth, unveiled in March 2015, is of a horse skeleton, with a large, metallic bow attached to its front left, upraised, leg. On the bow are the moving numbers of the live FTSE 100 index, perpetually scrolling round. The skeletal horse stands on the opposite side of the Square to the sculpture of King George IV, sitting nobly, astride a healthy, handsome horse.
If the horse is a symbol of the state, then the statue of King George depicts a healthy nation; the two working in tandem for mutual benefit – or so the story of the statue would lead us to believe. In contrast, the 2015 skeletal statue is of a deathly nation, malnourished. There is no figure holding the rei(g)ns of this horse; rather it is led by the ‘pretty’ colourful bow- a lifeless string of numbers that ‘bleeds’ its victim dry, like an all-too-vigorous mistletoe plant that leeches its host to death. The bow sparkles and ticks its numbers, like a macabre decoration on a death-dress, or a frivolous wrapping on a toxic gift.
The financial markets have bled us dry.
Ironic that the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, unveiled this sculpture with smiles and a caption that endorses the power of art to engender debate: ‘The Fourth Plinth is a place of experimentation and debate’.
Was satire ever more powerful? But is anyone listening?