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A Night in the Square

I once spent a night incapacitated in Trafalgar Square. It was 2009 and I had taken myself off for a night out in Soho with some new acquaintances I had made in the wake of a recent break-up with my first love. The experience was earth shattering in a way that only a seventeen year-old can imagine; I was spun about, lost, and had managed to become so drunk that I lost everyone I was with. At some point I sprained my ankle, which I was later told by my GP would probably be a recurring injury due to the elasticity I had cultivated through childhood tap dancing lessons. I had insisted on them. 

Having hobbled along to the only place I knew well in the city, I installed myself on a bench in the square and considered my options. Whilst weighing up the pros and cons of calling my mother I looked up to see one of the plinths occupied, not by cold bronze or faceless stone, but by a human being. This was Anthony Gormley’s response to the fourth plinth commission; a series of 2,400 human occupants, 24 hours a day for 100 days.

Thanks to a combination of drunkenness and trauma my brain has withheld certain details from me, like the specific performances and the people themselves, but I do know that I was there for some hours as I remember the hourly changing of the performers, with each one my anxiety increasing, where was I going to go? Would the leg sort itself out? Could I hobble to Victoria and try to board a bus? Where was Victoria again? 

I sat and watched the changing of the performers, I think I spoke to one or two of them, and was strangely comforted that they could do nothing to help me; they were doing a job for which they had probably been preparing for weeks if not months and the fact that there was a drunken teen lying injured on the bench must have seemed just like an extension of their own strange performance in the square.

When I draw monuments, empty rooms, empty chairs, unpeopled spaces I am often trying to think about moments like that one in the square, an in between place where the narrative has become somehow muddled through circumstance and where the only real questions are about time, the time before an event, the time after, the times where we are not present.

I have drawn monuments and empty spaces habitually for years and recently I have revisited central London in my work as I did in 2009 and in university. I often black-out when drunk, losing chunks of an evening, details of journeys, interactions with people, altercations, trauma perhaps that my brain has trimmed in a kind of phycological triage, ‘this isn’t essential’ it seems to be saying, ‘you’d thank me if you knew what I got rid of’. 

This loss sits somewhere in how I have always made drawings, and how I have now begun to make paintings. They are full of voids, of missing things, and whilst this is in part linked to that drunk state, in a far more essential way it references the other missing elements of our lives, of my life, the black holes in family, in history that are often fundamental to our sense of self. I am looking at the time before and after an event; as I have been since the time in that square, with little of the experience itself, only the trappings of the night, the morning, the arrival home to find a kindly police officer in my living room, telling me everything was going to be ok.