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Sunday, 13 May 2007

Antony Gormley

If you watched the Channel 4 documentary on Antony Gormley, "Making Space" (Saturday 12 may) you could hardly have failed to enjoy it as much as I did - unless, that is, you do not appreciate Antony Gormley's work. In which case why would you be watching it?

It wasn't that there was anything much that was new to take away, but simply that I found it fascinating to see and to hear from him what I allready knew, to see him being mummified, wrapped in swaddling bands soaked in plaster. Yes, I did know that his figures were casts from his own body, and that this was the way it was done, but to see the process gave an extra insight and an extra dimension to the knowledge.

Fascinating, too, to hear him on the subject of his own body as his art form, on the spiritual nature of his inspiration and to hear him justifying sculpture as as a still point in a moving world. Certainly, many of his sculptures have an eeriness about them that is both spiritual and in some way to do with stillness. Think for example of his sculptures on the beach, the "Thinking" sculptures, and "Event Horizon" (see below), all have that same indefinable quality.

Enthralling to hear his testimony to the importance of Egyptian sculpture in his own artistic development. He spoke tellingly of the way in which they did not try to make it look as though it could move, were quite happy with its resolute immovability, the way it just WAS. I think I began to see Egyptian sculptures with different eyes: its roundness, the way in which, to quote Matisse on Michelangelo's sculptures "you could roll them down hill until most of the surface elements had been knocked off and the form would still remain". (strange coincidence: I couldn't recall the actual quote or who said it of whom, but there it was in Saturday's Guardian - read on Sunday - in an article on the sculptures of Matisse. Thank you God!)

Insightful to hear at first hand, with visual illustration, how his visit to the subcontinent of India kick-started ("seeded" was the word he used) all that has come from him since. It was primarily, I heard (and this was new to me), the sight of people sleeping in public, in the open air that gave him his first forms - shapes fashioned from sheets soaked in plaster draped over the "sleeping" forms of friends.

I was less impressed by his "Blind Light" exhibition being installed at The Hayward, but then he might legitimately argue that as Blind Light is intended as an experience rather than an artifact, it can hardly be expected to make its point on the small screen. Blind Light is a cabin he has constructed to contain clouds in which the viewers lose sight of each other, though the light levels remain high. Outside the Hayward is what I suppose he might call a separate extension of the exhibition inside: calling it "Event Horizon", he has dotted figures around the London Skyline on the tops of buildings. This seems typical Gormley.

And finally back to fascinating. Fascinating to see the use he makes of modern technology (computers) to produce "equivalent" forms of figures he has cast. Figures were reduced - if that is an appropriate word - to a construction of boxes, which reminded me of Lego. These were then reproduced in steel, looking nothing like Lego, with rectangular holes like windows cut in their sides, and assembled in the gallery to form what I would have called an approximation to the original figure.


Gormley at Channel4

About Gormley

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