Wannabe: Posing for Posterity?

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On the day of writing, Rankin - the London-based photographer of amongst others Gorbachev and Madonna - kicks off his London exhibition Rankin Live. This new project focuses his attention away from top-drawer celebs and by using the latest technology creates instant gratification art and a tiny sliver of fame for his new subject, the general public.

Applicants were asked to dress well enough to make it down to a final 1000 and once selected given their due 15 minutes -- in a nice little Warholian twist that's the time it takes to shoot and print "from the click of the shutter to the hanging." A wannabe's chance for a bit of Brit self expression and exhibitionism, the criteria is having a "look that defines our time."

Rankin has described himself as a commenter and documenter of society, but despite Kate Moss' comment that it's impossible to be anything but yourself when photographed by him it's undeniable that he makes everyone look pretty lovely. Despite this apparent inclusiveness -- and considering the influx of "reality" obsession and democratized fame over the last decade -- this kind of artistic social experience actually admits that you still look better through the eyes of an expert. As a subject, Joe Public might be a little more free-range, but if you really want to join the ranks of the beautiful people this just proves that you're better off packaged.

Each participant has to give a snippet about themselves - below are a couple of the latest pearls of wisdom:
"I was very keen to have my photograph taken by the great photographer because I have a head like a horse, and I'd love to represent a tiny part of the city I love." -- Richard Hector Jones

"If I was invisible for a day I would go to the front line in war and watch and appreciate what is done." -- Lauren Mellor

I have to admit being a bit disappointed while reading the majority of quotes behind the images; what should have been the most interesting part of the project most definitely isn't. Grasping at the ubiquitous game of fame for fame's sake, is seemingly the mainstay of today's ambition and although the above comments are on the one hand fun, on the other more poignant, there was a distinct lack of real and resonant reasons for wanting to be included.

Another chance for the public to make a literal show of themselves has been Anthony Gormley's fourth plinth. Known for rather more staid structures – such as the imposing iconic casts he made of his own body and displayed around the Thames in 2007 – he has commandeered the empty plinth in London's Trafalgar Square for a piece of living art.

Running from 6 July to the 14 October, it too has received a massive public response (29,920 applicants for 2,400 places). The Fourth Plinth -- an empty monument, which has housed temporary art but never before "live" pieces -- has quickly become a YouTube favourite. The rules are: "you must stand on the plinth alone, for the whole hour and do whatever you want, provided it's legal; and you can take anything with you that you can carry".

Anthony Gormley's rather longer rationale runs as such: "through elevation onto the plinth, and removal from the common ground, the body becomes a metaphor, a symbol... In the context of Trafalgar Square with its military, valedictory and male historical statues to specific individuals, this elevation of everyday life to the position formerly occupied by monumental art allows us to reflect on the diversity, vulnerability and particularity of the individual in contemporary society. It could be tragic but it could also be funny."

Hmm... and so again people have used their time in a variety of ways -- political, tragic, whimsical and so on. The first occupant Rachel Wardell campaigned against child cruelty. Another encouraged a mass boo against the BMP (the British fascist party). Here's a lady Emma Phillips throwing some paper planes, one a minute each with a message message.

Working day-to-day in branding makes it second nature to put public opinion, lives, needs and wants at the centre of our thoughts. The rise of reality viewing and increasing popularity of customization and personalization doesn't make it hard to work out where projects like this have sprung from and why they could be considered provocative and even progressive. However, time will tell how long we will stay interested.

Celebrities are guarded by management teams for a reason -- they are there to peddle aspiration, not put their foot in it by being too "civilian." Conversely, what makes reality shows compelling is that they parade individuality and human error. They have no agenda other than making a quick buck, and they certainly don't concern themselves with creating the lasting influence and social progress art aspires to.

On the one hand, it's undeniable progress for everyone to feel they have the opportunity to have a voice, but do these kind of projects really achieve this? I am ready to stand corrected, but so far this kind of project only serves to show why the two shouldn't try and mix: especially in the case of Rankinlive, where polishing off the everyday grit from the everyday only results in a bland type of Mcfame.
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