Breathing Room III
Antony Gormley cheerfully admits that he is trying to jolt people, frighten them even, by suddenly turning on blinding and disorientating white lights as visitors daintily make their way through his latest work, unveiled this morning.
“To scare people I think, yes,” he said. “That’s important.” The artist was in London for a major new exhibition at the White Cube gallery of what has been three years in the making.
There are two rooms of new work. Downstairs is what looks like an enormous holographic matrix, in which visitors are invited to carefully walk through in darkness – until the timed lights are unexpectedly switched on, that is, bathing the entire room in ultra-bright light. The work – called Breathing Room III – is made up of 15 interconnecting photo-luminescent frames. The reaction from people today was not necessarily dignified – rather, it mostly entailed swearing.
Upstairs are the latest versions of the artist’s own body: nine geometrically shaped rusting iron sculptures, weighing up to two and a half tonnes, tightly packed into the room. You walk through them as you might walk through a maze.
“I’m very excited about this show,” said Gormley. “It’s the first time that I’ve shown a body of work that has such a close and clear articulation of one with the other. I’m thrilled.”
Gormley has been casting himself for 30 years in his exploration of the human condition. “We are minds enclosed in bodies and our bodies are enclosed in architecture,” he says. “The reconciliation of mind with architecture, which I hope also involves empathic feeling, is exactly what this whole show is about.”
Gormley is one of the UK’s most popular artists, his works ranging from the enormous homecoming beacon for Geordies that is the Angel of the North to the One And Other project in Trafalgar Square last year in which more than 2,000 people stood on the fourth plinth for an hour at a time. There have been recast versions of the artist all over the world, such as Event Horizon in London, with figures dotted around the capital, and Another Place, 100 cast-iron Gormleys on Crosby beach.
He gives short shrift to comments that he produces versions of himself too often. “I don’t think of my body as mine. It’s a body. This identification of body with self is a total illusion.
“It’s not my body, it’s just a bunch of molecules that I happen to have temporary leasehold on. If I was some kind of megalomaniac narcissist that wanted to fill the world with images of himself, I think I could do a hell of a lot better job than this, frankly.”
Postures in his new work range from his “body” lying down with his arms out to being upright, tightly clasping his thighs. He is clearly used to being cast. “When I’m inside the mould it’s great. I don’t have to do anything, nobody can get hold of me. I try and concentrate on what I’m doing, or not doing, or being.”
All the work has been the result of digital research with Gormley’s team using two software programmes – “framer” and “blocker” – that allow them to translate “physical body volumes in to architectural form. He says that interaction was an integral part of the show.
Downstairs, you can have fun with the flashing artwork – or you can try and see it as Gormley sees it, as “a kind of diagram of perspective in which perspective is destroyed by perspective”. Viewers, he says, can treat it as “an object, or a place – virtual or real”.
The Guardian, 3 Jun