Of all the days not to be in London! I missed a treat! Some activists from the campaign group Greenpeace, put gas masks on various statues around London to highlight the level of air pollution that is/should be a cause for concern for the health of Londoners. This was no mean feat – especially in the case of Nelson, as he stands 52 metres high!
There is nothing new about using sculpture to convey a political message – Trafalgar Square itself even has another one right now: Gift Horse on the Fourth Plinth is a skeletal horse sculpture comprising the current FTSE index streamed live on the bow round its neck. Surely it is a clear criticism of the financial markets and the catastrophic effect they have had on the general population over the last number of years [See my blog The Power of the Horse, July 19, 2015]. At its official unveiling the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson shrugged his shoulders and said ‘The Fourth Plinth is a place of experimentation and debate’. So in a sense, that dissent was an ‘official’ dissent [if that’s not an oxymoron I don’t know what is!]. And I think that it demonstrates the confidence of an institution or nation to allow and engender dissent; after all it is one of the marks of freedom of expression so cherished in a democracy.
But the Nelson’s Column protest was not an official dissent. It was a grass-roots protest. Actually, quite an important one concerned about the quality of air we breathe. It’s about the little people having something to say and highlighting a point. I hope it opens a prolonged debate. Going back to the Gift Horse on the Fourth Plinth, it shows the power that artists have to bring things to our attention. Once in a while we need to be shaken out of the routine of our lives. Artists can afford us this opportunity. Long live artists!