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The state of affairs with a cherry on top: Heather Phillipson’s new fourth plinth piece

Written by Arts, Culture

Trafalgar Square houses a substantial collection of temporary art installations, all of which appear microcosmic of their time. Heather Phillipson’s THE END is the newest addition.

In the now-hazy midst of 2019, Heather Phillipson erected The Age of Love in the BALTIC gallery. Entering the exhibition stripped me of my senses and all that was left was an apocalyptic land of distant memories. Symbols of modernity were stretched to the point of alienation. I was entering a rave with the viewpoint of a child.

Heather Phillipson :: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.
The Age of Love | Credit: The BALTIC

Phillipson’s surrealist hellscape has evolved to a more condensed and focused commentary, while still being thematically similar.

The new installation was unveiled for Trafalgar Square, marking a new symbol of cultural salience for the forthcoming time. Titled THE END, a cherry and two large vermin hug a dollop of whipped cream on the podium. On one side is a live-feed camera drone, monitoring the area, accompanied by a grossly oversized fly.

HEATHER PHILLIPSON — THE END, selected proposal for the Fourth ...
THE END | Credit: Heather Phillipson

I felt the same feeling of belittlement that were present for The Age of Love.  

This piece forcibly exposes the themes of corruptible democracy, the distrust of government surveillance and the imminent dangers of nationalistic pride. Hedonistic iconography, something as simple as sugary sweetness, can dismantle the status quo.

It confronts our expectations of symbols and their combinations, as if it were jigsaw pieces that do not match. The cherry that sits on-top, rich and saturated, is toppling over the structure

It’s in this brief analysis I’m reminded of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. What can be considered organic, like the cherry, is infested by greed and its mechanical extension. To extend the senses of the fly as the invisible eye to the point of automation is the natural end of modernism. Except in Burgess’ story it is argued that primal instincts like violence and sex cannot be reformed since it is breaking the human condition, whereas Phillipson’s piece shifts the perspective of desperately attempting to cling to structure.

1 day left to see Hans Haacke's Gift Horse on the Fourth Plinth ...
Gift Horse | Credit: london.gov.uk

Unlike Phillipson’s other works which feel transformative of their environment, THE END is a snapshot of a disaster happening that uses the looming technological advancement as a theme. It is subtly similar to Hans Haacke’s 2016 Fourth Plinth installation Gift Horse. Sporting a skeletal horse structure donned with a bow of the stock market, with a constant feed of numbers and data, representing the unity of both money and images of power. It feels ever so apocalyptic as Phillipson’s work yet lacks the inherent comedy.

It breaches the valley of ridiculousness and something genuinely poignant. At first glance, it doesn’t make total sense and that’s why it’s important.

Featured Image: David Parry

Last modified: 6th September 2020

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