Thursday, 11 February 2010

LOOK AT ME: Public Planning, Part 1

When we try and talk to someone, how often do we consider what they're willing to hear?

Last summer, I was part of officially the UK's Most Indulgent Event: Anthony Gormley's One&Other. 2,400 people stood on a bit of brick in Trafalgar Square, and a nation had the word 'plinth' on its lips for probably the only time, ever. It was gloriously cringe-y, trashy, serious, ridiculous.

But was it art? No, it wasn't. Yes it was.
It depends what you think art is - and hundreds of people took 'art' to mean "Not giving a swinging bollock whether the audience can appreciate or even see it". It's their prerogative to do so.

But some people didn't want a stage - they wanted a soapbox. They wanted to communicate.
Was it communication?
Well, sure, it had information in it, transmitted from a source. But then you could do that from anywhere - there's this little place called Speaker's Corner, I'm told - so what's the difference?

I didn't see all the slots...but from what I did see, there was a bit of a pattern, a bit of a missing ingredient that made otherwise awesome things lose their edge. As the days ticked by to my turn,  I took it like a planner:

What's so special about this then? What's the USP?
It's the fourth plinth.

So? There's three others.
It's in Trafalgar Square?

Thousands of people are. Think harder. Do they give you anything?
No. So anything I could do, I could really do anywhere. There's no material difference.

So if the materials are the same, what's different?
Context. This is all about context!

Okay, what's your context?
Well, I'll be high up - higher than anyone else there. But far away too. And I won't be amongst a crowd, which is rare in Trafalgar. And, I'll be standing somewhere reserved for a statue. There's not many of those around.

This is a point of difference. This is what separates you and everyone else, so explore it. Who was meant to be there?
(After a bit of searching) William IV. Blimey, he got up to a lot. And he's not commemorated anywhere. The latent spirit of William is pretty much only to be found here, if anywhere. And nobody knows about him. Could I tell his story?

I don't know. Could you, from up there?
Well it's going to be midday, so there's plenty of people about. But Trafalgar is a transitionary space; people don't usually stop for long. And they're not there for anything weighty. Whatever I do has to be episodic enough that people can pick up the thread halfway through and still enjoy it, and it's got to be simple, so that they can appreciate it quickly. And if I can, it's got to be fun because I need to earn their attention before I communicate. And it would be nice if people felt like they were sharing the experience - maybe dealing with universal themes is the way to go.

So that's what I went for - I would be William IV, tell his story, tell our stories - shout them if necessary. It would feel big enough that they'd be involved, even from the ten meters away they'd be. Since I was demanding attention, I'd try to earn it back in delivery.

But would it work?

Find out tomorrow.

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