Saturday, September 17, 2005


It's curious to witness the minor storm of approval and disapproval provoked by the latest statue to be situated on the famous 'fourth plinth' in London's Trafalgar Square. On 15 September 2005, the striking 3.6m marble sculpture "Alison Lapper Pregnant", by Marc Quinn, was unveiled. Lapper [below, left] is an artist who was born with no arms and with shortened legs due to the chromosomal condition Phocomelia. The statue is a nude representation which intriguingly combines weakness and strength, loss and hope.

For me it has distinct echoes of Mark Wallinger's remarkable "Ecce Homo" [see picture, left], installed in Trafalgar square July 1999 - February 2000, which is now located in the Anthony Reynolds Gallery (68 Great Marlborough Street, W1). Made of marbleised resin, gold leaf and barbed wire, the unassuming life-size representation of Jesus embodies the vulnerable "man for others" (Bonhoeffer), a definite antithesis of triumphant maleness, postmodern celebrity, modern military heroism, and the unattainable Nietzschean 'superman'.

Marginal to the symbols of power that surrounded it for eight months, "Ecce Homo", like the new Lapper statue, attracts attention to an alternate set of values in proximity to the public square. Wallinger's own philosophy is agnostic, but to my eyes he has created a genuinely faithful representation of what it means to receive Christ as God's person, the one in whom our prevailing corruptions of deity are radically reformulated as solidarity with the victim.

I doubt that this impression would cut much ice with Stephen Green of the inappropriately-named Christian Voice - an extreme website which seems to have captivated a confused media through its Jerry Springer antics. Green was implausibly asked by The Independent (thanks to MediaWatchWatch for the tip-off) what he thought of "Alison Lapper Pregnant". After damning the venture with faint praise and lamenting the demise of militarism, Green dubbed the sculpture "indecent", childishly observing that "she has her breasts and other bits hanging out."

How sad and revealing that he finds the naked female form threatening and repulsive, rather than seeing in it the goodness of a world gifted by God, the pathos of human disfigurement, and the empowerment of unclothed truthfulness. Like Wallinger's "Ecce Homo", Quinn's tender representation seems infinitely closer the redemptive impact of Christ than the bullying bravado of Christian Voice.

Quinn says: "I'm not physically disabled myself, but from working with disabled sitters I realised how hidden different bodies are in public life and media. [Lapper's] pregnancy also makes this a monument to the possibilities of the future."

"Alison Lapper Pregnant" will be replaced by the "Hotel for the Birds" sculpture by Thomas Schutte in April 2007.

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