The London Design Festival is bringing all sorts of fascinating installations to the city this September, but none in quite so prominent a position as this one by renowned stage designer Es Devlin. The four lions that rest calmly on their plinths in Trafalgar Square are about to be joined by a considerably noisier neighbour - a Devlin-designed bright red fifth lion with a habit of spouting poetry.
The idea for the design emerged from a walk Devlin – a designer previously best-known for her striking sets for opera and dance companies, as well as pop stars like Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Adele and Beyoncé–took with the London Design Festival's chairman Sir John Sorrell. Sorrell pointed out that the four lions in Trafalgar Square were originally designed by Edwin Landseer in the 1860s to be up on their hind legs, but that Queen Victoria had found the pose shocking. Devlin was inspired by this to create a lion that could be more active, have its own voice, and engage with the crowds who flock to the square.
The lion will be visually and aurally arresting, painted bright red and uttering a “choral roar” which will, as Devlin tells Vogue, "give those lions a release from their 150 years of bronze silence." Also issuing from the lion will be a kind of crowdsourced poetry, displayed in LEDs within the lion's mouth during the day, and projected onto Nelson's Column at night.
The sculpture's title, Please Feed the Lion, alludes to the fact that the public will be able to "feed" the lion words via a screen, which will then be incorporated into the poetry it utters. This part of the project, blending the public's words the with nineteenth-century poetry (Blake, Keats, Wordsworth) which was contemporary to the lions themselves, is being created with the assistance of Google Arts & Culture, whose machine learning programme was enlisted to design the algorithm for the poetry. Between the lion's fluorescent colour and its cryptic utterances, we've no doubt this first major sculptural work by Devlin will draw in the crowds.
Please Feed The Lions will be on view 18-23 September during London Design Festival. For more information visit the website.
London Design Festival 2018