by Samuel Jones
Today, we launch a new collection of essays, Expressive Lives, at the Royal Opera House. Only a few yards away around the corner, the first of thousands of people who applied to stand on Antony Gormley’s ‘One and Other’ were taking their place on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth.
Why have people applied to stand on the plinth and what does it all mean? There are plenty of answers to those questions. That’s part of the point – Gormley’s living sculpture is a public expression of lots of ideas. By deciding to stand on the plinth, people are placing themselves in a site that is all about British history and what it means to be a citizen in this country.
In fact, we do this all the time. Consciously and as much unconsciously, the decisions we make in what we create, what culture we consume and even what we eat, watch on TV and so on say something about what we value and who we are.
When we start thinking in these terms, we realise that we are surrounded by similar expressions all the time. They are integral to how we form things like identity and communities – who does what I do, eat what I do … who thinks the way I do?
Technology has brought about a greater intensity in the frequency with which we encounter these signs and symbols, but it also provides new opportunities by which people can express their beliefs, and for them to work with cultural institutions to platform and share them. Cultural institutions house the heritages of the past and can help us to relate to them and map out our futures. As we have argued before, for example in Cultural Diplomacy, culture is central to how we get a sense of the world, internationally and domestically as well.
In Expressive Lives, we think about how we can achieve this and what policy we will need to support and realise the true benefits of our flourishing cultural sector.