The Guardian: After 100 days, 35,000 applications and 2,400 people who succeeded in becoming living works of art, rain, hail, thunder, scorching sun and bitter dawn chill, the people’s occupation of the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square came to an end three minutes late as one last bunch of red balloons – marking the Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough stadium 20 years ago – drifted into the London sky.
“The question ‘but is it art?’ is totally irrelevant,” said the artist Antony Gormley. His One&Other brainchild caught the imagination of millions worldwide who logged on to watch the likes of 21-year-old Paul Skinner, an unemployed website designer in a top hat, try and fail to complete the Times jumbo crossword, or 84-year-old Gwynneth Pedler, the oldest plinther, signalling in semaphore from her wheelchair.
“The proper question is did it work as a celebration of our national diversity, an extraordinarily precarious mixture of those who just wanted to do something that was fun, and those with a burning cause for which they wished to serve as living representatives – and I think it did.
“I’ve just come back from National Day in China, and how did they mark it? With an awe-inspiring parade of uniformity where none of the serried ranks of marchers could vary in height by more than 5 millimetres. This was a celebration of exactly the opposite.”
Gormley hugged Emma Burns, the 2,400th plinther and a medical photographer from Darlington who, since nobody was arriving to follow her, was afforded the unique privilege of three extra minutes so that she could finish reading the list of the 96 Hillsborough dead.
He gazed up reverently at the second last plinther, Michael Brownsdon, originally from the Isle of Man, 6ft 4ins in his socks, at least 20ft tall in his breast cancer awareness feather boa, pink cowboy hat and cloud of pink balloons. “You were splendid!” Gormley said. Brownsdon blushed a matching shade of pink.