Please Feed the Lions by Es Devlin
September 2018 | By Es Devlin, Ross Goodwin
An interactive public sculpture driven by machine learning
Cast in 1867, the four monumental lions in Trafalgar Square have been sitting silently at the base of Nelson’s Column for the past 150 years. Overnight on Monday 17 September, a fifth fluorescent red lion joined the pride, facing northwards towards the National Gallery. This new lion is not silent: it roars poetry, and the words it roars are chosen by the public. Everyone is invited to “feed the lion”, but this lion only eats words.
By daylight, the ever-evolving collective poem is shown on LEDs embedded in the mouth of the lion. By night, the poem is projection-mapped over the lion and onto Nelson’s Column itself: a beacon of streaming text that invites others to join in and add their voice.
The project follows a year-long collaboration between Es Devlin and Google Arts & Culture. Exploring the parameters of design and artificial intelligence, the installation incorporates a deep learning algorithm developed by Ross Goodwin, creative technologist at Google. Following the Festival, the sculpture will be digitised as part of an online exhibition on Google Arts & Culture so people all over the world can experience the groundbreaking artwork.
Devlin says the idea for the sculpture was prompted by a walk through Trafalgar Square with LDF Chairman Sir John Sorrell during last year’s Festival. “He said: ‘Landseer never wanted those lions to look so passive; he proposed a much more animated stance, but Queen Victoria found it too shocking.’ The thought lodged in my mind. What if we could invest the lion with a diversely crowd-sourced collective poetic voice?”