LONDON • British artist Heather Phillipson's latest work is a 9.4m statue of a dollop of whipped cream, with a cherry, fly and drone on it.
This one has not been easy. In March, the work was meant to be installed on an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, the latest in a series of commissions that brings contemporary art to the central London plaza. But on the day the installation was scheduled to begin, Britain went into lockdown.
Soon after, she was having conversations with city officials about whether the work could be installed during the pandemic at all. The work's title, The End, did not have the best connotations at a moment when thousands were dying.
"It started to feel like there'd never be a good time, or a right time, for it to go up," Phillipson said in a recent interview at her East London studio.
Last Thursday, The End was finally unveiled. Phillipson said the work was conceived in 2016, not long after Britain voted to leave the European Union, and she had wanted the creamy sculpture, which looks as if it could ooze off its platform, to look precarious because that was how the world felt back then. Recently, she added, things have gotten worse. But people could read the statue however they wanted, she said: She would even be happy if they just saw it as a bit of fun.
"Personally, I'm drawn to stuff that baffles me," she said. "If I don't get it, that's when I'm hooked." Enjoying being confused is central to the charm of the artist's works, whose bright, over-the-top exteriors often belie their dark, urgent messages about environmental destruction or humanity's treatment of animals. She is a vegan (since "before it was fashionable") and her interviews are littered with talk of impending planetary doom.
The End is a more ambiguous piece, but a huge planned installation at Tate Britain is perhaps more typical: Phillipson will turn the museum's central gallery into "a suite of deranged landscapes, addressing the earth as a thinking eruption, on the verge of termination", she said. That work was supposed to be unveiled this summer, but has been postponed because of the coronavirus and is now scheduled for next year.
In 2018, Phillipson made a 79m-long installation on a disused subway platform in London. The work featured TV screens that seemed to be walking on giant chicken legs, and cartoonish egg sculptures, some of which appeared to be releasing bad smells.
"It is all enough to turn you vegan," critic Adrian Searle wrote in a review for The Guardian.
Phillipson insisted her work was not simply about her political views or lifestyle choices. "Yes, I'm a vegan, but I'm also a woman, a feminist. All kinds of things feed into my art because whatever ideologies I have will be in there at some level. But I'm not presenting an argument."
Ms Iwona Blazwick, director of London's Whitechapel Gallery, which has commissioned work by Phillipson, said her art managed to be both "hilarious and terrifying at the same time".
"She reminds me of the Surrealists, actually," Ms Blazwick said.
Like them, Phillipson juxtaposes unrelated items to give them new meaning. "That is what sets her apart and makes her a great sculptor," Ms Blazwick added.
In her studio, Phillipson – who has no gallery representation and worked as an office administrator until about five years ago – seemed surprised by her recent success. She never expected to get the Fourth Plinth commission, she said. When she received an e-mail in 2016 inviting her to submit an idea, her response, she said, was: "This is hilarious. There's no way I'm goiRead More – Source