publication of the International Sculpture Center
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Relationship Between Thought and Matter
with Antony Gormley
by Ina Cole
Critical Mass, 1995. Cast iron, life-size figures. View of installation.
Antony Gormley is
one of Britains most important contemporary sculptors, and installations
of his work have taken place all over the world. In the 1980s, he pioneered
the concept of casting the body in a variety of poses to evoke universal
ideas relating to the human conditiona subject that remains a major
theme in his work today.
range from the diminutive to the monumental. In Field, 40,000 miniature
terra-cotta figures face the viewer, and this myriad of watching eyes
is a haunting and emotional experience. In contrast, Angel stands
majestically near the A1 highway in Gateshead, North East England. Poised
as though preparing for imminent flight, it is one of the largest human
images made since ancient times.
This is a particularly
significant time for Gormley. Planets, originally commissioned
15 years ago, has recently been unveiled at the British Library. Domain
Field, an installation for Gateshead in May, will use body casts of
200 volunteers from the local community. Much of Gormleys work fuses
the primeval with the futuristic, and Inside Australia is an epic
installation, in which 50 gaunt, blackened figures infiltrate an area
of seven square kilometers like an alien invasion.
In the 1990s, you produced a number of iconic works, which have become
imprinted in societys consciousness. Angel of the North and
Field, in particular, spring to mind. How do pieces such as these
inform your future projects?
Its great to make works that have a popular impact, but its
not the only criterion. Of course all artists want to be loved, or certainly
seen, but I dont think just because something is seen by many people
that its any better than something thats seen by very few.
I think what ones looking for is the depth of the contact over time.
What I learned with Angel, which is viewed by about 90,000 people
every day repeatedly passing at speed, is that every time its seen
it has to communicate something: it cant be a one-shot job, a slow
bleed is important. Field also works in that way. It has an immediate
visual impact, but then you need to quietly spend time getting to know
your own reactions to it, and your understanding of what youre looking
at changes over time. So, these two works are benchmarks, two different
ideas about extendibility in time.
IC: A new
work of yours, Planets, has recently been installed at the British
Library. Central to this commission are ideas of geology and time. Can
you expand on this?
is an evocation of the relationship between thought and matter. That might
be what sculpture is about, an attempt to leave on the face of an indifferent
universe some trace of human presencea sign of thought and feeling.
I think that a standing stone is a very early example of someone taking
a naturally made object and putting it in a place where it becomes a marker
in time and space, against which human life can be registered. Ive
taken that idea and made it more polemical. On the surface of eight ancient
rocks (one of them is Cambrian, so its about a thousand million
years old, the rest are probably Devonian, about 350 million years old),
which have themselves been formed by the action of several ice ages, I
have carved the trace of the touch of eight different people, one to each
rock. Each work is a testimony to a moment of lived time in which a living
body and an individual rock were brought together.
Planets, 2002. Rocks, dimensions variable.
View of commission at the British Library.
the bodies conform to the shape of the rock, as in Michelangelos
Slaves, rather than the other way around. Thats very important;
these are traces of people hanging on for dear life. Its an indication
of the minds dependency on the body and the bodys dependency
on the planet, and I think that has particular poignancy at the British
Library, a depository of the fruits of human mental activity over millennia.
Below these rocks lie shelf upon shelf of booksa sedimentation of
the mind stacked like strataand these rocks remind readers of our
vulnerability and dependency on the physical world. There is a sense of
time present contained in time future, time past contained in time present,
that Elliott syllogism that sculpture can peculiarly engage people in.
Sculpture is silent,
still, and in its best examples it uses that quality to great effect in
a world where everything is mobile. I think we need sculpture more now
than at any other time, simply because it is a still moment in a moving
world that asks the question, What are you doing here? You
might also ask that question of the sculpture, but a good sculpture will
always return the question to the viewer. The extraordinary thing about
sculpture is the way it can communicate over vast periods of time, and
I think art has always been an attempt to make a bridge with what lies
beyond the horizon of perception.
is silent, still, and in its best examples it uses that quality
to great effect in a world where everything is mobile."
Stone has always
been such an important material for sculpture because we sense it comes
from a time before mind. Now that we know the universe was created about
five billion years ago, these rocks become messengers from a time before
life. The challenge for sculpture is: How do you mark this material, which
embodies the indifference of a universe to organic life that came so late
upon it? Some of the most moving sculpture or art I know is not consciously
art at all: the footprint on the floor of Peche Merle in the Dordognea
30,000-year-old petrified footprint of a young boy in the mud floor of
a caveor in the same cave, the outlines of hands where ochre has
been blown around them, left like a sign across time.
are creating an installation for the newly opened Baltic in Gateshead.
Domain Field will feature the casts of 200 people from the local
community. You have been using your own body as a template since the 1980s,
but how did you go about finding volunteers for Domain Field?
AG: Here I
want to shift from bearing witness to individual identity to an engagement
with the idea of the collective body. Field did it in terms of
unformed, surrogate bodiesthe virtual body as a potential, evoking
speciesification prior to the development of humankind. Recently Ive
wanted to make works that deal with the local, the village, and the second
project I made after the European Field in Malmö called Allotment
deals very much with this. Its a collection of Modernist bunkers
that enclose the exact dimensions of 300 living people from the city of
Malmö. These bunkers are then used to make a virtual city in 15 blocks
of around 20 rooms each, with two avenues and four cross streets. Here
we used the media to ask for volunteers from between the ages of two and
95 to come forward and be measured.
Critical Mass, 1995.
Cast iron, life-size figures.
View of installation.
At the Baltic, Im
going to show Allotment in relation to this new work Domain
Field, which is an attempt to do what Field did, engage with
the local community to make an evocation of the collective body. This
time, it will be made out of the direct body molds of 200 living Gateshead
people, of a similar age range as Allotment. A domain is a random
matrix of stainless steel bars, which are welded together to describe
the space of the body, turning its mass into an energy field. It evokes
the body through a structural principal that is neither architecture nor
more like the random matrices one might find in stochastic systems. When
you come into the room youre not aware of individual forms, only
that the whole room is filled with a mist of trajectories. Then, once
you walk around them you recognize the individuality of each workthe
yearning energy and vulnerability of a child, the composed compression
of an older person. I suppose in all these projects what ones trying
to do is make the everyday strange, so you ee it again in a new way.
are one of seven children, so being surrounded by a community of people
must be something you are used to. Yet you have said that as a child you
had an overriding anxiety as to whether you belonged in the world at all.
This is interesting in relation to the way you often position figures
in your installations, since they seem quite alienated from each other.
Do you view society as a collective force or is the reverse more appropriate
in relation to your work?
intrigued by the twin facts of individuationthat we are all born
with unique characteristics, but evolve through time and experience. We
have a physical, genetic, intellectual, and emotional imprint that is
all encoded, yet the individual is really only defined in relationship
with others. My interest is in how these two models interact, because
the shape the individual takes cannot be disentangled from his or her
place within a collective, however mobile and interchangeable that collective
may be. I think its interesting being the last child in a large
family because the possible spaces seem very limited. I was brought up
in Hampstead Garden Suburba materialized ideal, a green nowhere,
where everyone had their own perfect homes, surrounded by a perfect garden
in a street with perfect privet hedges, and people were civilized and
wealthy. My family was more of the same; it was the 50s, the birth
of the Nuclear Family. It was a well-organized organism, and to an extent
I felt alienated by the way in which everything had been decided. There
was not a great deal of room for originality. On one level I regret this,
and on another level I think it was marvelous. It pushed me toward inventiveness,
fantasy, and an attempt to try and do something that lay outside the expectations
of this determined world. Having said that, I think my work continues
to battle with these very issues about the social need for convention.
I think were at a point of crisis in terms of Western civilization,
where its very clear that in the exercising of the democratic ideal
of individual liberty we are involved in a loss of community. Im
not saying this crisis is something art can necessarily heal, but its
certainly something art reflectsthis tension between individual
freedom and collective restraint. All my recent projects have tried to
make an analogue for the collective body; ever since Field this
has seemed the most important task.
Allotment II, 1996.
Reinforced concrete, life-size units.
your body with plaster has to involve an incredible amount of patience,
both for you and your assistants. During the casting process you must
have a heightened awareness of your physical state, the organic nature
of who you are. Is being incarcerated in plaster a kind of temporary death,
from which you are constantly reborn, a quest for immortality perhaps?
AG: Yes, obviously
this is a passage every time Im encased in plaster, every time Im
molded. Its a voluntary journey into the underworld and a rebirth,
which has become ritualized and integrated into my way of living, a testament
to a human life. It obviously means more to me if the work starts from
a lived moment in real time and space and uses my own physical existence
as a tool, subject, and material. The process of casting is not prolonged,
but it is an hour taken out of the continuum of existence. I use my own
body not because its me particularly, but simply because its
an example of a common human condition of embodiment.
in the mind and body problem. In other words, that the body is finite,
organic, and only capable of being in one place at one time, while the
mind is capable of seemingly infinite extension into realms of imagination,
which are not strictly speaking anything to do with the body. Yet the
body is the place that we live; its the material we have to deal
with. Recently Ive made a lot of work that deals with these issues
of self and community of body and mind. From a very early age I used to
sit in the car or in trains and look out onto a 50s smog-filled
London, look into lighted windows at dusk and think, that could
be my home, that could be my life, and I think Ive transferred
that to my sculpture. I realize that my life and my body are one possible
location for human identity, and I like the idea that the sculptures are
not representations of a particular person, but a potential place where
life might rest. In a sense, they are all invitations for empathic inhabitation,
from Learning to See to Quantum Cloud. By inhabiting the
space of sculpture, you can in some way escape from your own condition
into anothers; through the works, viewers can experience feelings
and thoughts they wouldnt otherwise have felt.
are clearly moved by your work. It has the power to evoke a host of different
feelings, depending on the individuals own state of mind and life
experience. Are peoples reactions important to you and is this something
you take into account when positioning figures for maximum impact?
Field for the British Isles, 1993.
Clay, dimensions variable.
AG: Sculpture for
me is the most powerful way of transmitting and bringing out feeling in
people. I think we havent managed to evolve out of the need for
transitional objects, which some people might call fetishes or totems,
that in some way work as objectifications of our deepest fears or most
potent desires, and sculpture can act as a catalyst for those feelings.
There is no obvious place for sculpture to exist. One of the great attributes
of sculpture is that it lives in the same space as we live, and what you
have to do is somehow introduce the sculpture into that location in a
way that is meaningful. By being a foreign body in space, something that
is there on different material and structural terms to you, sculpture
makes you more aware of your somatic experience, your own passage through
you tell me more about your vast project for Western Australia?
Australia is an attempt to make an interior, as in the interior of
a person. I agreed to do this project because Western Australia has some
of the oldest rocks on the face of the planet. These Archean rocks are
between 2.5 and 2.9 billion years old, so much closer than the stones
of Planets to the Big Bang. In these rocks are to be found an enormous
wealth of mineral depositsuranium, iron, copper, and stranger, more
recently arrived elements on the elemental tableiridium, vanadium,
molybdenum, and titanium. I wanted to make a new alloy based on high-grade
stainless steel 316 that includes as many of these new elements as possible,
a kind of concentration of the elemental memory in these very old rocks.
being a foreign body in space, sculpture makes you more aware of
your somatic experience, your own passage through space."
The idea, then, was
to use this material in the sodium landscape of an outback area, a salt
lake, Lake Ballard, which is 70 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide.
Into it weve placed 50 sculptures called Insiders. Now, an insider
is a residue, a kind of concentration of the body. We lost 66 percent
of the mass and retained one third of the body volume, but only in one
axis, so these stick figures are the same height as the original person,
but vastly reduced laterally. The idea was to place the figures about
400 meters apart on this extremely white, optically acute, chemical landscape
in the middle of the Australian summer, when heat shimmer is extraordinary,
with the idea of dealing with issues about individual and community, the
relationship of identity to the place, and the idea of who I am and how
thats constituted by others.
Inside Australia, 200203.
50 steel life-size figures,
view of installation at Lake Ballard, Australia.
I wanted it to be
a very physical experience; if we had succeeded in making all 100 figures
youd have had to walk about 42 kilometers to see the whole work.
The idea of the piece is to provide a human measure for this geological
landscape that allows viewers to walk out and sense their own bodies in
space and time in a way they wouldnt normally. The site is fantastic.
At the west end theres a raised mound about 40 meters high, from
the top of which you can see most of the work, which covers an area of
seven square kilometers. We would like people to go for 12 if not 24 hours,
so they experience at least one sunset and one sunrise. The works are
carbonized, so they are black stick figures that evoke, as in Field,
the spirit of the ancestors, but also something futuristic, so that we
are again put into the position of being strangers in a strange land,
inhabited by evocations of existing human beings, so that we reconsider
our own position.
View of 5 Insiders from Inside Australia.
have undertaken projects in Australia before. Is this one a permanent
installation or situated only for a limited period of time?
AG: The future of
this work is very uncertain. We surveyed a vast area of Western Australia
before coming to the decision to use Lake Ballard as a site, and it would
be a shame not to leave it there. However, there are all sorts of challenges
to overcome. Who owns the land is a big question: the Aboriginal land
claims underline the way this land was imaginatively inhabited, and this
has now been destroyed by mining and pastoralism. These are the sensitive
issues that the work reacts to and with.
IC: Do you feel you have achieved your magnum opus, possibly with
the installation for Australia, or is there another project, unrealized
as yet, which will exceed everything you have created so far?
AG: I dont
know whether I believe in a magnum opus. Art is organic, unpredictable.
A very small object can have a massive effect, completely changing peoples
perception about what is possible in art. Wait and see.
often speak of the space within the body in relation to your work. I assume
you mean this psychologically as well as physically; yet most people do
not feel that comfortable with their internal space. Do you think that
apart from our physical state there are different levels of existence,
or do you think we are purely organic matter, existing for a limited period
of time, after which there is oblivion?
to See I, 1991.
Lead, fiberglass, plaster,
and air, 218 x 69 x 51.
difficult to know anything about what lies on the other side of death.
Its another threshold we know very little about. Rather like the
horizon, its one of those things we dream about, what lies outside
this stratosphere, and I dont want to predict. I feel the same sense
of potential about what lies on the other side of life as about what lies
inside the body. I think darkness is often seen as a denial. It isnt.
Its a zone of potential. People see death as the end of everything,
but it could well be a beginning. Its an acknowledgment of the necessary
relations between night and day.
Most of the vibrant
cultures of our time have managed to accommodate the notion of death within
their notion of living. We live in a culture where death is the big no-no,
the big trauma. The cult of youth and the cult of bodily beauty in some
desperate way try to ignore the inevitability of death, whereas if you
look at the great cultures of Meso-America, Chan, Tibetan Buddhism, or
the Egyptian Book of the Dead, theres no sense in which death was
not acknowledged and celebrated in life. All of them in different ways
have imaginative projections about continuity or the relationship between
the living and the dead.
are living in a time of scientific advance and information overload, but
the divide between excess and deprivation seems to be widening chasm.
Society is obsessed with the body, of not wanting to age and ultimately
escaping mortality, yet people have never been more confused and dissatisfied.
How hopeful are you for societys future?
AG: Were living
in the Kaliyuga, the era of Kali, goddess of night, sex, and death according
to the Hindus, and I think that just about fits. There is confusion, fear,
but also an acknowledgment that in some way transformation is necessary.
We dont know what the next state of human consciousness and human
physical existence will be. It could be wipe-out; it could be total transformation.
I like the idea that we have now globalized the world with the mind; the
Internet is the physical manifestation of that. This is the noosphere,
the encirclement of the globe by intelligence carried by the human organism.
What that does in terms of the biosphere is not clear. It is evident that
we need to totally transform our physical needs in order to achieve sustainability.
We have a finite world with finite resources and the theres-more-where-that-came-from
mentality will not persist without us becoming the agents of our own destruction.
Transformation is absolutely necessary, and I believe that art is a zone
in which we can imagine the necessary transformation.
Ina Cole is based
in St Ives, Cornwall, England.