Thursday, 9 July 2009

Me, the 76th plinther!

and possibly too tired to make any sense of this at all tonight - I should probably wash the fake blood out of my hair and get some kip.

But, as it happened today, today it should be recorded - however briefly. The 4th plinth was, quite simply, remarkable. The questions in my previous post all went answered.

I stood, wobbly at first, but with growing confidence, I pulled t-shirts on (surprising myself each time at the country!) and tried to find relevant phrases and thoughts about each one. The bag seemed to have never-ending amounts of t-shirts in.

The ritual began - find something meaningful to say, reach down, find the knife glinting in the sun amongst the strewn roses, try to steady myself (it's higher than you think, narrower than you think up there) then as I'm holding the fragile velvet of the rose, it all comes together, it really does feel like this is something beautiful, amazing, delicate that I'm about to desecrate. Each time I did this, something inside me leapt at the horror of it, a feeling deep in my solar plexus - my voice seemed to waver, but I found a way of saying: this is for the three million girls, some of whom may live in Mauritania, who may be cut this year.

The actual cut was brutal, but there was something remarkable about the moment after, where I put down the knife, then stood, with the petals crushed in my hand, then flung them high above. Holding this pose of freedom - arms outstretched into the wind, with the petals falling around me seemed to release me from the horror of the cut. People applauded. Without fail. Every single time.

Then the brighter, upbeat t-shirt chat. Remarkably, people fought over getting a t-shirt flung at them from on the plinth. Not only that, they stayed and wore them!

I realise a blog post of this nature without pictures is like (insert suitable metaphor - too tired) I will post some as soon as I can.

So, 30 t-shirts later, much crowd recognition (THANK YOU ALL SUPPORTERS) and a few mishaps in my communication (I never did get the 3 million phrase quite right) and it was time to pull the show to a close....

Kneeling down, with a photo blown up of two small girls in Lalibela, Ethiopia, with the most beautiful smiles. The wind rises and blows around me, the headless rose stems are underneath me, thorns pricking my knees. I take the knife and, it needs a deep breath to do it, slice carefully into the smile. The knife eases in, enjoying its task. It cuts the paper so easily - does it happen that easily to flesh I wonder? I look up - the crowd is watching. I feel connected and disconnected. The cameras are watching.

I have to keep going, although at that point, I want to put the knife down and walk from the plinth. It feels too real. I think I may cry. But I look down - I've started. I continue my cutting, which becomes sawing, almost hacking. I had only meant to do one girl, but I have to do both. It would have been both.

Then, knife down, I pick up the string and thread it through the slashes and gashes I have made. The string pulls at the paper lips, as it would pull at the girls' lips. I have moved through the emotion now - I'm aware that I have literally minutes left.

I stand up, the blood is in a small bottle and I hold the picture at waist height. I have already desecrated it once, I can do it again... deep breath and I pour the blood over the two faces. It skims viscously down. I don't dare look at the crowd. I feel it rather than see it drip down onto my legs and then, hold the picture aloft, high up and throw my head back.

The blood drips down my face and the rivulets of red run.

I hear people below applauding. My time is up.

One man comes up to me later, in his disabled buggy - he says thank you. I did not know that. I did not know that happened. Thank you for telling me.

He takes my hand. It seemed to say it all.

I think the main message came across. Three million girls. Every single year.

More later - hopefully more visuals.

Now, to bed.


  1. beautifully written julia, you made me cry. am so glad you did it.

    abby x

  2. A truly beautiful account of what was a very moving hour (I had to watch it on the webcam since I was at work), I cried when you released the petals, such a physical sense of relief I shocked myself!
    I've been totally inspired by your message and your story - rock on sister. x