Stand Up Routines

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You can keep American Idol. When I want to see ordinary people reaching for stardom I go for performance art every time. So I’ve gotten into the habit of checking in a few times a day on the live video feed from the Fourth Plinth in London, the 100-day Antony Gormley art project, officially titled One and Other, that puts a different person every hour on an empty pedestal in Trafalgar Square and lets them do whatever they want to do so long as it’s legal.

Some of the people up there feel compelled to truly perform, like the guy who dressed as a town crier, the guy in the gorilla suit, the lady in angel wings. Some push causes, like the woman who is unfurling a banner about abortion rights in Ireland as I write this, or the woman who spent her hour protesting female genital mutilation in Africa. But those players seem to miss the point, which is not to perform. That simply turns the plinth into a stage. Or to proselytize, which just turns it into a soapbox. We’ve seen all that before. The ones I actually enjoy are the people who just “exist”, like the guy who stood there with his hands in his pockets, or the guy in a suit who did office work on his laptop computer. Those are the ones who have realized what seems to me to be the maximum potential of the work, which is to frame off and aestheticize sheer existence, being-ness. Heidegger would have loved it.

Sure that’s been done before too. Thirty five years ago Chris Burden put himself on a platform in a New York gallery for 22 days. But since Burden was an artist, that made what he did “art” in a more — is the word here “official”? — way. Gormley has democratized Burden’s work by letting anybody perform it, which of course is what all of us are doing all day anyway. I’m existing right now, and I’m not even on a pedestal.