Art and Culture England

Is it Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down for London’s Fourth Plinth?

Thumbs Up Statue in London's Trafalgar Square
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Is it Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down for London’s Fourth Plinth?

Kirstie Profile SmallHow positive are you feeling today? Would you give the thumbs up to a seven metre high statue of a thumbs up? Then get down to Trafalgar Square quick to see the Fourth Plinth. A towering, phallic thumb that’s ‘Really Good.’  Or not – depending on your mood, disposition or circumstances…

Feeling up? Thumbs up?

Do you feel more positive when you see a positive image? That’s the question I’m asking as I stand in front of a seven metre high hand that’s giving me the thumbs up. The rain has stopped, the sun is peeking out and I’m on my way to work after an early start and a long trek to London from Cumbria. Is the thumb making me feel better about my day? Shhhh please, I’m thinking…

Thumbs Up on fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London

David Shrigley’s “Thumbs Up” on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London

It’s positively good!

‘Really Good’ is the Fourth Plinth’s latest installation, standing just behind Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. Artist David Shrigley is a fellow northerner who hails from Macclesfield. His artwork was unveiled recently by Sadiq Khan the Mayor of London who declared it a positive image for London and the UK. Three days later Theresa May declared we’d push the button for Brexit by March, slightly undermining its positivity. A Union Jack sadly flutters in the breeze behind the statue today.

The thumbs up selfie

However ‘Really Good’ is provoking a happy reaction in people around me. I read on the plinth’s sign that the artist wants his work to be a self fulfilling prophecy. And this does seem to be the case as people respond with thumbs up gestures. Although mostly it’s for a selfie or group photo. Two middle aged men discuss the proportions of this phallic image, holding up their thumbs to see if the raised thumb is exaggerated. I do wonder what they’d do if it was, actually, a phallus. (Or indeed the blue cock that used to stand here!)

“It’s ugly!” says a Mum trying to scrape Nutella off her child’s face with a wet tissue. The toddler wriggles and pulls at his restraints of his buggy. He clearly hasn’t noticed he’s being given a seven metre high, four and a half ton injection of positive thinking from a plinth high above him.

Do you like it? Thumbs Up on fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London

Do you “Like” it? It’s easy to give it a Thumbs Up but does it make you feel good?

The meaning what is Yoda??

I spot three floating Yodas outside the National Portrait Gallery. If anyone can help me find some meaning in the statue it is this ancient creature. “Statue, what meaning it has?” I ask one of them pointing towards the plinth. Either he can’t understand as he’s Ukranian or he can’t get his words out through the latex mask as there’s no wise reply. “The thumbs up?” I ask. He shrugs, sticking out a pointy glove and forcing the first digit into the air. He looks down at his hat. I politely put fifty pence in but he doesn’t look any happier.

What’s not to LIKE in a giant emoji

Jo, who works in the film industry, is up on the wall taking photographs of the hand. “I’m not on Facebook, are you?” she asks. “It’s all thumbs up or thumbs down now isn’t it?”

I hadn’t thought of that! I consider the idea that what I am seeing is in fact a seven foot ‘like.’ A four and a half ton emoji. Is that why so many people are taking pictures? To get more likes on social media? After all what ungenerous person would give a thumbs up a thumbs down? Especially a solid and real thumbs up from London!

Jo may not be one of the Facebook generation but she is a big fan of artist David Shrigley’s work. “He’s a perceptive chap I think. I’m just texting the picture to some friends who have just finished a horrible project.” Her aim is cheer them up but she’s aware that the installation’s message might be more opaque than it looks. “He does have a slightly cynical edge. Tells it how it is. And we all know how it is don’t we.”

If I share it will you like it? Woman takes selfie of Thumbs Up statue on London's Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

If I share it will you “Like” it? It might make me feel good (for a moment) but what will it do for you?

Four and a half tons of cast irony?

Now Jo gets me wondering. Is that four and a half tons of cast irony on that plinth? There’s only one thing for it. I need my followers to tell me. I post an image and a stream of comments pop up.

“I walked past this yesterday and was honestly so baffled. Not a fan at all, it looks so ridiculous and so out of place.”

“I love the fourth plinth. So many interesting artworks. This one’s a bit too phallic for my liking.” My Instagram friend helpfully adds a hotdog and two eyeball emoji’s but surprisingly not a thumbs up.

“Not sure about the positivity bit –great image though!”

Happy shopping opp

Limited edition ‘Really Good’ thumbs by David Shrigley aren’t exactly flying off the shelves at the Flying Tiger shop in the Square. But there’s a steady trickle of the 3000 specially designed, signed and numbered souvenir statues being handed over.

“It’s because it’s mostly tourists here today,” says the assistant at the pop up dome shop as she deftly bags up stationary the artist has designed to accompany the installation’s opening. “We sold a lot of the miniature statues on unveiling day to a lot of people who follow him and are interested in his work.” But she says tourists do get it. “It’s one of those signs you can use anywhere in the world isn’t it?”

I bump into Jo in the shop. She’s spent a few quid on Christmas presents but is still looking happy. And then I sit for a while in the square, watching people take selfies, peering down from the open top bus and generally engaging with the hand. My rule of thumb (excuse the pun) is that any art where people engage and debate is good art. So I guess this is, after all ‘Really Good.’

And yes, for a moment I do feel happy. And then I catch sight of the Union Jack again. And I remember that I’m sad.

Thumbs Up Gifts of the statue on Londons Fourth Plinth

Something to make you feel good at home. A David Shrigley “Thumbs Up” in miniature for the mantlepiece anyone?

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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