Antony Gormley Royal Academy
On my train journey to view
Antony Gormley’s exhibition at London’s Royal Academy, I listened to BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week podcast where he spoke about his approach to his art on display: Antony Gormley Royal Academy
Immediately my imagination was captured, and I joined the exhibition with great expectations and by the end they were substantially enhanced.
With much contemporary art there can be a multitude of depths of immersion. From simply peeking, a giggle, fun and enjoyment through to listening to what the artist intended and identifying with such or not. Beyond that it means working hard to make sense oneself of what the vision means personally to me, how it impacts on me, what sense and affects it makes on my personality, mentality, well-being or otherwise. Total immersion.
BBC Radio 4 Antony Gormley spoke of sculpture changing the real world, being no longer a mere reference to it and no longer dependant upon it. Sculpture doesn’t need a wall, a room or even a label to exist. Its presence occupies its own space and thus it can alter people’s behaviour.
He spoke of his exhibition as being challenging, disorientating, dislocating. Of the viewer becoming the show, or engaging and involvement, maybe even to our normal behaviour – changing.
Here are my thoughts …
Antony Gormley’s ‘Baby’. Upon entering the RA courtyard, one is awed by the grandeur of the building, but overwhelmingly attention is drawn to the simple yet powerful iron sculpture of his baby, innocently lying in one’s path. It emphasised a baby’s vulnerability, innocence and smallness amidst the hustle and bustle of London. Yet I thought what power and dramatic influence that child may grow up to create in the world hopefully positively, especially against the background of the threats of climate change highlighted by the Extinction Rebellion ( https://rebellion.earth/) going on outside the bubble of the RA.
‘Clearing in Space VII 2019’ a ‘ drawing in space’ as Gormley described it, a ’Laocoon of the quantum age’ for people to physically negotiate and to enjoy watching fellow visitors becoming at one with it, experiencing the spatial field for themselves. It reminded me of a harmonograph pattern, reflecting the movements of the universe, gravity and endless infinite vistas, within which we are a part, colliding with others on their own trajectories, to then separate and bump into others on our individual treks through life. Deliberately and by chance, unknowing what the destination will be. The universe within ourselves, from macro to micro it also reminded me of our circadian rhythms – our deep internal thus being a fundamental part of the wider galaxy.
‘Subject II 2019’, a single figure of tightly packed steel bars, the ‘zone beneath the skin’ according to Gormley. It brought home to me the transience of the space we occupy. The temporary nature of our place in the world. Watching the other visitors, there we were, standing still, moving, walking, bending, solid and ‘here’ yet seconds later the space occupied once again becomes vacant, we’ve gone, the site we stood on is orphaned.
‘Matrix III 2019’ a massive structure of iron grids, building reinforcements, welded together into a huge structure. In the centre Gormley has left a void which he claims is the size of an average bedroom all of which challenges our visual perspectives as we struggle to gain a dimensionality. This to me spoke of superficiality. Here we have a gallery that’s 250 years old, but in the nature of the universe, completely impermanent as is this structure and more precisely the iron material itself. Behind the façade of the gallery and the structure we have porosity, corrosion, decay and decomposition. Our Earth’s, universe’s and our own transititory destination.
‘Lost Horizon 2008’ Gormley describes his figures as disorientating, gravity being defied and space folding in on itself. To me this reflected our floating through space with no permanent fixture, once again a comment on transience. Disorientating.
‘Cave 2019’ via a darkened tunnel. At first one is blinded but with faith you end up inside a huge cavern and looking upwards shafts of open light give reassurance that life does exist outside, up above on the surface of the Earth. My immediate thought was of a coalmine and my father helplessly conscripted in WW2 to work in the Welsh mines and the psychological impact that had for the rest of his life. The savagery of war and all involved; victims. The insensitive bureaucracy, the totalitarianism, even of democracies in the necessary fight for survival. It was fun journeying through the sculpture, yet the mental impact was quite profound.
‘Host 2019’ in gallery 13. Here the whole gallery has been carpeted with clay, gravel and water. An incredible dichotomy between the nature of life on the floor and the grandeur of the gallery ceiling above. From which we come, to where we go via grandeur and illusionistic structure and guiding. At the end of the day, earth to earth and dust to dust.