I’ve admired Anthony Gormley’s work for many years now, preferring his abstract/ conceptual work much more than the strange sculptures which he creates from a mould of his own body. These figures are eerie-looking and seem to take on a life-form of their own.
As they stand erect in their rustic metal body, with arms rigidly pointing towards the floor on either side, I wonder what it is they are trying to say. There is both beauty and disturbance. They are creepy and yet they also make you question your own sense of being, as in, when I ask myself, what does it mean, I am also asking myself, what do I mean? Because I know that it is prodding me to ask myself, what do I mean to myself? The figures stand postured posing all sorts of questions, including the one, what does it mean to posture one’s self in one’s space? The question is of one’s existence, one’s place in one’s environment. The way they stand restricted, is in many ways, the way we exist in the spaces we occupy, perhaps in the great grand scheme of existence itself. The sculptures are symbolic of immortality, while we are mortal.
What is unsettling however is the way that others perceive his sculptures. During my university days, I would often find myself walking past no. 350 Euston Road. Here lives ‘Reflection’ a Gormley figure that stands looking from within the building at its twin outside. At that time I wasn’t entirely aware of the artist’s work and so you can imagine my bemusement at seeing this figure, because it neither looked like a real person, nor did it look like a traditional sculpture. Instead it looked more like a dead man standing. Gormley’s exhibition ‘The Event Horizon’ which was seen in London in 2007, and is the most popular of his work, would have seen these sculptures scattered around rooftops all over Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago but was cancelled due to a suicide that had occurred in February, perhaps as a way of respect. You see while we in the UK, might be a little bit more inclined to these strange shows and exhibitions, somehow always expecting the unexpected, and perhaps to some degrees having that cynicism and disbelief that always stops us from taking immediate action, in other parts of the world, onlookers quite rightly alarmed at seeing figures at the edge of the roof, called up the police, afraid they were people about to jump to their deaths.
Even though Gormley’s sculptures are rather disturbing, I also find them fascinating, beautiful and mesmerising. I don’t know how I feel about some of his pieces that are placed on the beach scaring away birds going about on their peaceful errands, nor does it seem right to create so much distress to other people that they are forced to call the police, but I do appreciate an artist for being true to himself, creating his art with absolute commitment and sincerity, not relishing ambiguity and distancing art from the public but also not making the work so obvious that it can be easily interpreted. What Gormley does is create work that triggers our sensory faculties.
In an interview with Nigel Farndale of the Telegraph, Gormley says:
“Our time is provisional…They are facts that are not going to go away, and that are… well, the ones in the tide-line at Crosby are changing the whole time, because they’re rusting, and getting covered in barnacles and all that, but on the whole they’re kind of enduring, in a way that we are not…There’s no point in making another body when you have one already. The only way of doing that is to use the material that you’re closest to, the material that you live inside…I feel uncomfortable talking about this because all I know is it’s important to me that they have an authenticity that comes from a lived moment, and then, beyond that, I am aware that they are empty and nameless. They’re being, not doing, and they are waiting. They have time, we have consciousness, and they are waiting for the viewer’s thoughts and feelings…This is the absolute antithesis of heroic sculpture.”