This article provides a history of the sculpture and space in Trafalgar Square, an intensely contested site that has been constantly redrawn and rebuilt.
It offers a new account of the square by focusing on its statuary and memorials, as well as the colliding forces which have had a stake in the space. Starting from Ken Livingstone’s call for the removal of two statues of Victorian generals the article considers the installation and removal of statuary at this landmark location, from the square’s inception in the early nineteenth century, to the installation of military leaders in the nineteenth century, and the contemporary sculptures that have been temporarily sited on the ‘fourth’ plinth.
In considering a specific location and its histories over nearly two centuries, the article argues that a ‘location’s location’, its surrounding areas –which have also changed--reconfigures the site as well as its everyday usage and users. The commemorative role of statuary in the square is considered through Freud’s analysis of monuments and his thinking on the tripartite relations between memorials, metropolitan space and the subject. This allows an analysis of the statuary’s potential for signifying (or not) to present passers-by as to those of the past, for an examination of the past’s intrication in the present. This is extended through readings of Jacques Derrida’s writings on haunting, developed in his Specters of Marx (1994). Dwelling on the space of the square and its statues, the essay considers how the past, never uncontested and always conflicted, haunts the present, and its spaces; it concludes with reflection on what the dead have to say to the living and on what the past asks of the future.