Well, the interesting thing about this is that the piece was not designed for the Fourth Plinth, but it seems that the Fourth Plinth was designed for it. In 2015 I got invited to submit a proposal; I was very excited, and honoured, because I was familiar with other pieces that had been done on the plinth, the importance of that space and of Trafalgar Square.
Things like Nelson’s Column [in Trafalgar Square] represent a glorified history. But dig a little deeper and you come to understand that the material culture is more sinister; canons, for instance, were melted down to make the lions [which sit around the base of Nelson’s Column] … When I was invited to do the Fourth Plinth, I said, well, I’m already thinking about and using the compost of history in the making of my work. I’m already doing that. Then, the blueprints they sent me said that the Fourth Plinth was almost exactly 14 feet in length, and I was simultaneously in the studio working on blueprints to make this Lamassu which had been blown up that same year. It was exactly the right size. If all that wasn’t enough, the Fourth Plinth itself was made in the early 1840s for a statue of King William, which the city couldn’t pay for in the end – so you have this disappeared sculpture, much like the original Lamassu which Austen Henry Layard uncovered only 8 years later. I was like, this is too perfect...!
Aside from all the crazy coincidences, the idea was that the Lamassu could do several things at once in that space. It could talk about the cultural destruction of Iraq, the human catastrophe, but also look at the less anthropocentric and more environmental disaster which was the destruction of the date palm industry because of the sanctions [the sculpture is made of Iraqi date syrup tins]. At its height, in the 70s, Iraq had 30 million date palms. After the Iran-Iraq war they had about 16 million and at the end of the US-led invasion in 2003 only 3 million remained. Being able to have all of those things intersecting through a material choice, which was also pragmatic, was perfect. It was satisfying to have so much of the project and what it was representing wrapped up in one piece.
The last thing to say about its siting is that the Lamassu’s back is to a museum; it’s facing away from the National Gallery, and I like to imagine it leaving the museums to go home. It is looking South East, towards Nineveh, hoping to return. Some very exciting possibilities are now being discussed with people who want to tour the piece to a couple of places after the two-year run here. I hope it will go back to Nineveh one day, and that the government of Iraq will want it back. That’s the idea.