This is a repost of my blog entry on the One and Other website. The original is at:
4pm last Saturday (11 July) I did my hour, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed walking around the plinth for a while beforehand, the preparations with the hospitable and efficient staff, the journey on the JCB, the hour itself, the journey back, dinner with friends in London and getting back home to Glasgow to tell the story again (and again and again). I can honestly say that the whole experience was quite beautiful.
Now, you may think that this is a bit effusive and even sycophantic, perhaps uncritical. Well, there’s a reason for my enthusiasm which is surprise. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the project after becoming somewhat skeptical in the first week. I had a fear that ‘One and Other’ could become submerged in the notion of the ’15 minutes’ and this was the plucked-from-obscurity-plinthers opportunity for fame. I was worried that the plinth could become the stage of an arty ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. I am not being so snobbish as to say that BGT is inherently bad, but I don’t believe it be justified in the way that One and One has been. I had seen plinthers being mocked on the internet by idiots and the phrase ‘Dance Monkey Dance’ repeatedly featuring on Twitter. Of course there has been warmth and congratulation on Twitter and other internet forums but the ugliness sometimes whips into a frenzy. I also saw some plinthers being rewarded for showmanship in a way that could have caused a de facto obligation for all plinthers to become performers providing brash entertainment. That last concern was a disappointment for me as I love to celebrate the silly costumes, fund-raising, crowd-raising or awareness-raising initiatives that were always inevitable. But not at the expense of those who go to the plinth with just themselves. I haven’t had the chance to see the Sky Arts highlights programme but I sincerely hope the editorial choices reflect a the balance of activity on the plinth and not just the dramatic and camera friendly.
So what changed on the day? The first thing was that as I walked toward the occupied plinth for the first time I realised I had been sucked into thinking that the broadcast version of the event was more important than the reality.  Maybe it does have a significance but nowhere near that of the live experience, not even close. I then felt the warmth of the crowd for the project. There was curiosity, some cynicism, jokes, lunches being eaten and general hub-bub. It was great. Clearly the 24/7 plinth experience is not like that, I was there on a pleasant Saturday afternoon in July, but I felt something of what I believe is the actual wider response to the project. And it was good.
Then my turn on the plinth. I had prepared to write and that’s what I did for most of my time. This was a unique opportunity to write (what I do for a living) a piece that I suspected would benefit from this crazy context. It was an intense experience and the writing reflected that intensity. I wrote fast and with a great deal of emotion, although I’m afraid there might not have been much to watch at the time. While writing I was observing the crowd and was feeding off some of the comments shouted up to me. I looked at the square and remembered past events that also fed the writing. I wrote an end to the piece and decided to stop writing. There’s enough there for us to take into rehearsal and make a performance piece so that’s a success in my books.
The remaining 10-15 minutes I shared with the crowd, drinking toasts from a hip flask of very fine 12 year old Bruichladdich single malt whisky. People in the crowd shouted suggestions to me and I was very pleased to toast some birthdays, campaigns and events. Those minutes were fun and funny. I also toasted the love of my life, Katherine, who anyone who was watching will now know that I love very much indeed.
I learnt and had some things confirmed to me in that hour. Firstly, that I was happy to be a volunteer in someone else’s art. At the end of the project I will have been one of a large number and pleased to be exactly that. Secondly that a collective strength of character will maintain the integrity of the project despite media pressure and internet idiots. Thirdly…
I could go on listing loads of things but I’ll cut to the chase. The big thing that I learnt at first hand is that this isn’t a live ‘sculpture’. This is a dynamic piece of art and the people on the plinth are not just part of the process, or simply on display, they are also the audience. When you are on the plinth you suddenly surrounded by a stage and you are the observer as well as the subject. 2399 people will share that experience and I hope many more will share that experience indirectly. And not just on the plinth, before and after I experienced beautiful and ugly interactions that only happened because of One and Other.
I was skeptical about the claims of One and Other becoming a survey or snapshot of Britain. Now I think there could be intriguing results but not with a goldfish bowl relationship to the plinthers. I suspect that the most interesting results will happen in a more dynamic way and from looking out as well as in. There might not be a final picture from One and Other but lots of questions about how we see ourselves.
So, I have a suggestion for Antony Gormley. We were all interviewed before we went on the plinth and clearly that was a good thing. That was the survey bit. Interview us again afterwards. That would be the art bit.