All Bodies Fall at the Same Speed

Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria
Photograph by Markus Tretter

Antony Gormley
Cast iron 60 lifesize elements,
size variable
Installation view 3rd floor

Antony Gormley
Kunsthaus Bregenz
On view until – 04 October, 2009

Kunsthaus Bregenz presents four major installations made by the artist Antony Gormley over the last fifteen years in which we can trace a constant dialogue with the nature and dynamic of the sculptural project, the way that it investigates and occupies space, and the way that it invites us to re-orient ourselves, our perceptions and the terms of our self-knowledge. Refusing the fetishization of the object, Gormley’s work continually tests the limits and syntax of sculptural expression and the attention of the viewer, calling for ever greater participation and engagement.

The exhibition brings together four key series from Gormley’s oeuvre. Allotment and Critical Mass approach the collective body in dialectically different ways: body-forms falling or dropped, forming a chaotic and abject field, and void concrete cases arranged in a strict city grid. In contrast to these opposed masses and spaces Clearing creates a dynamic field: a drawing that acts like a web or nest to entrap and entrance the viewer, confusing and contradicting the clearly defined volumes of Zumthor’s architecture while remaining open to atmospheric changes of light. This sensation is contrasted by the results of a contained explosion where the physical meets the incommensurable in the seven tonnes of rusting iron that make up Body and Fruit.

These, the first works encountered on entering the KUB, are two of Gormley’s Expansion Works, made between 1990 and 1994. The skin, or sensory limit of the body, is extended through the application of consistent spars radiating from nodal points at the extremities of the body. These are linked together at their outer ends to form a continuous surface. Body (1991– 93, cast iron, 6 t) and Fruit (1991– 93, cast iron, 1.25 t) are derived from a body-mould in a clasped diving position. The hanging of these two sculptural objects sets up a relational field reconciling the human and planetary body and engaging the viewer in a gravitational field in which these large heavy objects hang just a few centimetres from the floor.

Replacing the biological body with “the second body of architecture” on the first floor of KUB, Gormley presents Allotment II, made in 1996 in Malmö, Sweden. A total of three hundred people – men, women and children aged from one and a half to eighty years – were measured following a set of thirteen strict body measurements provided by the artist. The resulting data defines the height, width and depth of the body; the location of the head; the dimensions of the mouth, nose and ears; and the height of the shoulders, anus and genitals from the floor. From these detailed measurements the ar tist constructed three hundred reenforced concrete cases (each 5 cm thick), translating the individual shape of the respective person’s body into the form of a modernist bunker. All body openings (mouth, ears, anus and genitalia) are transcribed into the concrete box according to the individual’s measurements. The reinforced concrete case is the minimum space necessary to accommodate a particular body. Evocatively called “Rooms,” collectively they resemble a city and refer to a sense of community which transcends the individual subject. The smaller constructions of heads upon the plinth-like concrete columns resemble water tanks or plant rooms on high-rise tower-blocks while at the same time, in their proximities and apartness, play out family relations. Displayed in juxtaposition, a sense of the individual characteristics of these intimate architectures emerges. As well as through obvious variations in size and height, some subtle transfer of the character of the original subject is displayed through small differences and shifts in proportions. The geometrical grid and arrangement of the individual works into blocks with streets and squares provide a labyrinth in which the viewers can lose and find themselves, literally and in ghost form, by measuring their own heights and girths against those of absent subjects.

Since the early 1980s the artist has been developing works in which he has reflected upon the phenomenology of spatial experience and the limits of the empirical horizon beyond the physical boundaries of the body. In the Domain series, for example, the interior sensations of the subject’s body-space are evoked from a welded matrix constructed from lengths of stainless steel bar. In the Feeling Material series the energy field surrounding a body-space is generated by a continuous unbroken line. These experiments are linked to Clearing V (2009), which is presented on the second floor of KUB: an endless metal line that describes its own tensile capabilities while springing twelve kilometers of raw aluminum tubing from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. Gormley’s intention here is to create a three-dimensional drawing in space: “I am trying to destroy the fixed coordinates of a room and make a space/time continuum that is both a thing and a drawing.” The complex field of spirals and sine waves takes on its own autonomously formal character, determined by both the framework of the architecture and the inherent qualities of the material. Here, as in all the installations, the viewer is an integral part of the work, becoming the subject of a constantly renegotiated visual field.

In the third floor Gormley presents Critical Mass II (cast iron, 1995, commissioned for the StadtRaum Remise, Vienna); an installation of sixty figures cast from moulds taken of his body – squatting, sitting, kneeling or bowed in mourning – which develop from a low crouching position and ascend to an upright standing position with the head tilted upward: a syntax of twelve body-postures that are here muddled and tumbled. Some works are suspended, most are earth-bound, all are at rest, evoking different readings depending upon which way they are orientated (for instance, the kneeling figure, when fallen backwards, becomes an arch of hysteria; when inverted, the mourning figure with its head bent becomes an acrobat). Their weight is actively engaged. To quote Gormley: “The suspensions are vital. Maybe there are two things identified here: Firstly, bearing witness to torture and execution, the worst destiny of the dispossessed. Secondly, through an arrested fall, activating a gravitational field” (these forms have ten times the density of an ordinary human body of the same size). As with the works Body and Fruit, exhibited on the ground floor, the artist wishes to re-enforce the connection between body and ground: “The use of this material – iron – is associated with the deep underground that lies beneath our feet and emphasizes that our body is on temporar y loan from the mass of matter constituting the planet and to which, in some way, we give shape.”

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