Friday, 22 April 2011


Just around the corner from Tate Modern this gentleman stands at a great height. Monument to the Unknown Artist  is a piece of interactive public art created by Greyworld,  a world-renowned artists' collective founded by Andrew Shoben, Professor of Public Art at Goldsmiths College., London University.The sculpture stands in front of the monumental Blue Fin building, named after the 2,000 blue aluminium fins that cover the building's facade and change its appearance as you walk round it. 

At first glance the Unknown Artist looks harmless enough: a massive bronze statue of a man in a loose- fitting suit, wearing a neck scarf. His stone plinth is so tall that any potential  protesters (who keep central London on its toes) would have to bring their own scaffolding before they could climb and deface this particular gentleman.

He’s probably up so high because he’s susceptible to trouble. He’s animatronic: ‘a mechanised puppet using electronic and robotic ways and means to simulate life' indeed to copy the movements of passers by.  Alas, he’s been a bit  lifeless recently. I wondered if he’d been turned off for health and safety reasons? Or was he just dispirited by the noise and clutter of the huge building sites now surrounding him? (The Tate was originally designed for 2 million visitors a year. Now numbers are reaching up to 5 million and there's serious building going on). But whatever else happens, if the wind is blowing  his clothes - which look as though they’re made of bronze too - gently flutter.

But this morning he's back in form, playful, even mischievous, waving his paintbrush about to strike a pose or two as I move around on the pavement below,

What’s written on the plinth? Non plaudit, modo pecuniam jacite  which means, ‘Don’t applaud, just throw money’. I think he’s a bit of a mystery. Why communicate to us in Latin? What would he do with the money anyway?

Nearby  is a paradox. The bronze Unknown Artist on the plinth is programmed to be life-like; walk along  Southbank and you see real live human beings pretending to be statues. With paint and costume and props they try to earn an honest crust by posing motionless  and being endlessly photographed.
 With that Latin motto ringing in my ears, what could I do but toss some coins into a silver horn lying on the pavement?

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