After a four-month delay due to coronavirus, Heather Phillipson’s huge whipped cream sculpture has finally landed at Trafalgar Square in central London. ‘The End’ stands at a whopping 9.4 metres and is the tallest commission to fill the Fourth Plinth Project.
The towering dollop of dessert is topped with an enormous cherry, a fly and a drone in the now eerily quiet square. Phillipson’s illusionistic sculpture appears on the verge of collapse, despite the 9 tonnes of hardened steel and polystyrene used to create it.
“Whipped sounds propulsive, plosive, doesn’t it? Filled with energy,” reflected Phillipson about her plinth in an interview earlier this year. “I’m really interested in how we give ourselves away in language, how we can’t stop dribbling out stuff in our words and through our bodies.”
Although Phillipson is not a household name yet, she is celebrated in the contemporary art scene for her vibrantly outlandish work. This includes video, sculpture, music, drawing and even poetry, for which she has received numerous awards.
‘The End’ alludes to a collapsing society of excess and comments on the use of CCTV. Anyone from around the world can access a live feed produced by the rigged-up drone, which literally surveys its audience as they observe the piece.
Phillipson formed the dystopian idea for the artwork in 2016, the year of Donald Trump’s presidential election and the start of Brexit. The piece has since assumed further meaning as a result of the worldwide pandemic.
“Obviously it is a strange time to be doing anything right now,” noted the artist about the unveiling of her work. “But it also felt like it was never going to be the right time, so maybe it was the right time to just let it happen.”
The Fourth Plinth Project was conceived in 1998 by the RSA to temporarily occupy the bare northwest plinth in the bustling square with contemporary sculpture. Phillipson is the third woman to be commissioned in the series, following Rachel Whiteread and Katharina Fritsch. Her plinth is also the first to be fully accessible; visitors can use a braille panel on the plaque and an online audio description.
Justine Simons, London’s Deputy Mayor for Culture, said “for me, the fourth plinth matters more than ever because it speaks to London’s values as an open, international and confidently creative city.”
Phillipson believes her piece brings an element of optimism too, asserting that “in the end there is the possibility of something else forming. There’s the chance of radical change inside any ending … there is potentially hope for something else.”
The plinth will reside in Trafalgar Square until spring 2022.