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10th September 2009

Exonian becomes Trafalgar Square human light installation

Katy Barrett (2004, History) is one of the most recent members of the public to stand for an hour on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, as part of Antony Gormley’s One and Other project. Here she tells us about the experience, and what motivated her to turn herself into a human light installation.

You can watch Katy on the plinth at the One and Other website .

On the Plinth, by Katy Barrett

I first saw Antony Gormley’s idea for the plinth when I went to the exhibition of bids at the National Gallery. His wasn’t the one that I voted for, but I knew it would win and that I would be at the front of the queue to take part. Since then, I have had trouble when asked why I wanted to, as I cannot imagine why you wouldn’t!

In the event, getting a place was both exciting and daunting. 3am is not a time I would normally choose to visit Trafalgar Square, but this was an opportunity I wouldn’t miss. Then began the process of working out what to ‘do’. I recently heard someone describe the plinth project, very aptly, as ‘art for the Facebook generation,’ and I think it is sad that the plinth has become a stage where participants are expected to perform for the crowd. It is, I think, about self-expression in a more visual and bodily sense. This performance aspect was what daunted me but, after various suggestions from friends of dressing up as a giant meerkat or pigeon, I realised that I could make a virtue of my night time slot to achieve what I think ‘plinth self-expression’ should be. It proved surprisingly easy to buy 100 glow bracelets on the internet, which I could wrap around myself to become a light installation.

The actual taking part reminded me slightly of exams. Oddly severe nerves set in the day before, but on arriving in Trafalgar Square, I was suddenly calm and excited. Standing on the plinth was an awe-inspiring and surreal experience that I still suspect may have been all a dream. The view was extraordinary and passers-by were encouragingly positive and engaged. Throwing glow bracelets out to people helped to get conversations going and to spread the experience beyond my own perspective. Two marriage proposals in one hour from over-enthusiastic watchers were also, I think, not bad going!

In decking myself in light, I did something which, I hope, expressed me, related to others, and could only have made sense on the plinth. In this sense, I hope that I fulfilled the aims of the project for my 1/2400th part of it as well as having that elusive ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. As someone who works in museums, I can now even claim that I know how it feels to be an exhibit!

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