Wellcome Trust and “One & Other”

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By | From the Collections

What do the Wellcome Trust and Antony Gormley have in common?

Gormley has long been a supporter of Wellcome Collection, referring to our exhibitions and library as a “laboratory of possibility”. There is a also a characteristic sculpture by Gormley suspended from the ceiling in the foyer of the Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, welcoming visitors. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Wellcome Collection was asked to be the official ‘record keeper’ and ultimate repository for the interviews which were captured in 2009 of all the participants in his large scale live public art work project, One & Other.

One & Other was commissioned by the Mayor of London, between 6th July and 14th October 2009, occupying the empty Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, Central London. Running 24/7, over the course of 100 days and nights, participants occupied the plinth in one hour time slots. In total there were 2,400 participants who were quickly dubbed “plinthers”. Over the course of the summer the word entered rapidly into common parlance. Footage of all the plinthers was streamed live over the internet by Sky Arts with further coverage in traditional media as well as out in the blogosphere. After the project closed, the project website with all the footage was archived by the British Library. A whole year later, a book featuring some of the plinthers has recently been published by Random House.

Wellcome Collection’s involvement stemmed from the desire to capture the thoughts and feelings of the participants in relation to medical humanities and wellbeing, in the broadest sense of the term, before they ascended to the Plinth. 15 to 30 minutes of audio was captured from each plinther by a team of interviewers led by the project manager, Verusca Calabria. Calabria herself features as one of the plinthers – occupying an early morning slot – using her time to celebrate oral history. The audio was captured on state-of-the-art solid state audio recorders straight to .wav audio files. The location of the tiny booth at the base of the plinth meant environmental noise and on occasion, the intrusion of sirens and other traffic noise, which very much places the audio in a specific time and place but despite this the vast majority of the interviews were usable and have been retained.

All the plinthers agreed to making their audio widely available under the terms of a Creative Commons licence (which permits the re-use and re-mixing of the audio for non-commercial purposes) and the race has been on to make the material available as soon as possible. Over the course of the last few months, the master audio files have been transcoded to .mp3 audio files for ease of access and they are now audible online via the Wellcome Library’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. The public can either search for a particular plinther’s name to go direct to that record (using either the surname alone, or the full name in the order Last Name, First Name), or go to the collection level record and click on “see this in context” to display the collection as a browsable “tree”. There is also a third level of access via the Wellcome Collection’s website, where the focus is placed upon a sub-group of 20 plinthers who were considered of particular interest to the Wellcome Trust as they were closer to the ‘coal-face’ of biomedicine. This group was selected by the Wellcome Trust for follow-up interviews in 2010. Each of these plinthers is represented by a photograph and edited highlights of their pre- and post-plinth interviews. For further discovery, these records link through to the Library catalogue where the entire pre- and post-plinth interviews can be heard, as well as downloaded. There are also transcriptions of the full interviews available.

For one hundred days Britain talked about the issues that were on its mind: this artwork records an audio snapshot of the nation in 2009, and we are proud to make it available.

Image: view from the plinth, taken by Philip Blackwood, who was the plinther between 1:00 and 2:00 pm on 23 August 2009. In the background, the portable cabins housing the One & Other project. This is one of a number of photographs of the Fourth Plinth that can be found at the UK Geograph website.
© This image is copyright Philip Blackwood and is licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons licence.

Chris Hilton

Chris Hilton

Dr Christopher Hilton was until August 2017 a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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