Monday, June 18, 2007


Anthony Gormley / Hayward Gallery

Anthony Gormley could be said to be our most successful contemporary sculptor. He has achieved both critical and public popularity, no mean feat in these days of public cynicism and derision over 'modern art'. A number of artistic projects, such as Field and The Angel of the North managed somehow to be populist, without receiving a critical pasting. So Gormley seems to have become quite adept at creative crossover, without dumming his work down.

Then, if you look at his sculpture, cast as it often is direct from casts of a human form, they have two virtues; one - they always look recognisable human, it doesn't take much art education to interpret them; two - pieces verge on abstraction,in form, or in space, composed as they sometimes are from segments of metal welded together. They are then hung upside down , stuck on walls, laid on floors. An atmosphere of bonded alienation, sets off an emotional resonance in us - this is how we feel in our increasingly crowded urban spaces. 'Event Horizon' part of this new work/mini retrospective, features numerous full size figures placed ontop of buildings, scattered near and far. You can enjoy spoting them from the galleries balcony or promenade. These lonely forms stand perilously on the edge of roof tops, there are'nt suicidal, they stand as motionless contemplatives. Peacefully they're looking towards you, they seem to see you, you see them. Everyone is being watched, our every action observed by these seemingly benign beings.

In the centre of this exhibhition is the Blind Light work. A glass cube, filled with heavy water vapoured air, an internal fog, lit brightly from above. From outside, all you can see are shadowy hands and bodies, and hear voices, a mix of young squeals and adult cautionary tones. In the centre of the room, your eyes see nothing but white out and hear only those same voices moving audible around you. Suddenly I was struck by a thought –‘I’m hearing voices in my head, and they’re speaking to me’ how easily they could become tormentors. The longer you stay, the greater the sense of solitariness becomes. The splashing sounds of water beneath your feet, the moisture swirls on your eyeballs, become the predominant sensations. Without visual reference sound becomes heightened. It definitely draws a crowd, judging by the lengthy queues. I guess in much the same way people wait to experience rides at fun fairs, or to board the London Eye – we are all looking for extreme sensations in a sensory dull environment, this is just a bit more refined in its presentation.

The final rooms of the exhibition feature some of Gormley’s recent work. Gone are the dark jelly baby forms to be replaced by open, airy versions, suspended like babies in wombs of wire and metal. At the centre of them is a suggestive net like bodyform, from which extend metal rods, which are then crossed by further metal rods. They hang from the ceiling and turn slightly as you pass. It’s as though a body has been caught and vapourised in the middle of a computer generated matrix. They are supremely beautiful objects very satisfying things to stand and contemplate. In some the body form at its centre is less distinct, and can barely be seen viewed from the other side of the room. Again, Gormley is exploring our relationship with space and that sense of otherness that perplexes us, yet the closer we get the less we can perceive it or understand. The metaphysical subtext to his work is perhaps not so immediately tangible, but from this exhibition it would seem to be a vital and vibrant part of his works appeal.

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