Heather Phillipson’s artwork is called The End and depicts a whirl of cream topped with a cherry, a drone and two flies. It will remain on the plinth until spring 2022.
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The artist said she felt “mixed emotions” about unveiling the “dystopian” sculpture as “it’s a strange time to be doing anything right now”.
“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,” Phillipson continued.
Phillipson said the sculpture was not necessarily meant to be “pessimistic”, adding that she found it signalled a “chance of radical change”.
“We are still in a state of collapse,” she said, calling the artwork “hopeful”.
The sculpture replaces artist Michael Rakowitz’s recreation of a protective deity destroyed by Islamic State in Iraq.
Ekow Eshun, chair of the Fourth Plinth commissioning group, described the new work as “audacious and beguiling”.
“It expresses something of the fraught times that we’re currently living through while also standing in conversation with the artistic and social history of Trafalgar Square,” he said.
“I’m sure this this will be a hugely popular commission that will inspire everyone who sees it physically and experiences it digitally.”
The Fourth Plinth commissions have seen many memorable works over the years, including Marc Quinn’s sculpture of pregnant Alison Lapper, and Yinka Shonibare’s scaled-down replica of HMS Victory, contained in a glass bottle.
Antony Gormley created One & Other, in which people – including a man who posed naked – took it in turns to spend an hour on the plinth.
Justine Simons, London’s deputy mayor for culture and creative industries, said: “The Fourth Plinth is the world’s most famous public art prize and each new sculpture breathes fresh life into our public realm.
“When Heather’s work was selected two years ago, we could never have imagined the world we find ourselves in today, but we always knew this sugary swirl with a dystopian flavour would spark a conversation.”
Additional reporting from agencies