The fluorescent and eye-catching sculpture has joined the four other big cats on the Trafalgar Square for five days as part of the London Design Festival.
The four bronze lions that surround Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square are pretty passive-looking creatures. They sit on all fours and gaze blankly ahead, more sphinx than lion. Legend has it that their sculptor originally planned for the animals to be posed in more active stances, stood up on their hind legs and roaring at the square. But Queen Victoria reportedly vetoed the decision as too shocking. Now, 151 years after they were originally unveiled, the lions have a new colleague, and he is definitely turning heads.
Members of the public can type in a word on a screen next to the lion, which then creates a poem based on that word, generated by an algorithm, as reported by the BBC.
By day, the poem will be shown on a screen inside the lion’s mouth whereas at night-time a stream of poetry will then be projected onto Nelson’s Column. Words, with the exception of names of people or swear words, can also be submitted online.
‘Please Feed The Lions’ installation, designed by Set designer Es Devlin, follows a year-long collaboration between her and Google Arts & Culture. Ms Devlin, who also designed the London Olympic closing ceremony, said she got the idea for the project after British designer Sir John Sorrell told her last year that Sir Edwin Landseer, who created the square’s lions in the 19th Century, “never wanted [them] to look so passive”.
“He proposed a much more animated stance, but Queen Victoria found it too shocking. The thought lodged in my mind. What if we could invest the lion with a diversely crowd-sourced collective poetic voice?” she said.
Other installations in the capital as part of the design festival include an alphabet of 26 chairs in Finsbury Avenue Square in Broadgate, east London.
Freya Murray, programme manager for Google Arts & Culture, said,
“We’re delighted to be able to support Es’s exploration of machine learning in her work and be part of her public artwork for London Design Festival.”
Leaving aside questions of poetic quality, the lion is certainly entrancing. It’s an exact replica of the original four, which were scanned using LIDAR (the laser-bouncing technology that guides self-driving cars) and then re-created in a resin cast. More noticeably, it’s painted in a shade of vermillion so bright that it warps its surroundings, as per a report in The Verge.
The colour certainly pops in pictures, but it’s just as effective in real life. It obliterates detail, and from a distance, it looks like the sculpture has been edited out of reality, leaving behind a lion-shaped hole where a lion ought to be. This is perhaps the most effective part of the installation. Despite the wonders of AI-generated poetry, we’re still more interested in very bright objects, especially when that color clashes with the classicism of its surroundings.