Thursday, April 26, 2007

Putting a lifetime of mugs back in the cupboard ... public art

How many cups of tea (or coffee) will you drink in your lifetime? How many chickens will you eat? How many rolls of toilet paper will you flush away? How many baths will you take? I’ll come back to those questions in a minute.

Public Art is much in the news at the moment. There’s lots of it about in Belfast. (I missed the external cathedral spire going up on Monday, though the bottom part inside the cathedral is still to be finished.)

One of Banksy’s artworks (graffiti) was removed from a wall in London, causing consternation from many people who actually liked it.

And it’s been a busy week for Trafalgar Square. Monday’s night’s Coconut Orchestra world record attempt verged on being public art. Certainly a large scale performance piece.

(c) BBC 2007

But very early on Tuesday morning, it was the venue for another transitory installation. As part of the promotion for tonight’s The Human Footprint show (9pm), Channel 4 got up early and set out 74,802 mugs in Trafalgar Square, and filled them with tea. It’s a lot of cuppas.

Having got press photographers and news crews around to witness the scene, they needed to clear up. So starting at 3pm, with a team of 20, how long do you think it took them?

Giving away thousands of mugs might have been possible—we all like a freebie—but they’d only borrowed the mugs from the manufacturer, so they had to empty the tea out, give the mugs a quick rinse, put them back onto wooden palettes, load them onto the back of a lorry and pay for the breakages.

Now dripping wet mugs sitting on cardboard trays, with the trays stacked up on top of each other are a disaster waiting to happen. The cardboard sags, and the stack of mugs leans precariously, and has to wrapped in cling film to give it some stability when the fork lift puts it onto the lorry!

The heritage staff who look after Trafalgar Square (and blow a whistle if you try and climb up onto the monuments) commented that it had taken a lot, lot longer to clear up than they’d promised.

Sometime between 10pm and 11pm they finally left the site! The show airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4. Looks interesting. (Oh, and the answers: approximately 74,802 cups of tea, 12,000 chickens, 4,000 loo rolls, 7,163 baths.)

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