Antony Gormley’s presence in London last summer was difficult to ignore, with a specialty commissioned installation, fervent Horizon, signalling the opening of his exhibition from the city’s skyline. This ambitious urban sculpture positioned casts of the artist’s body on rooftops and walkways around the concrete jungle inhabited by The Hayward. The title of the work, derived from cosmological physics, specifically refers to the boundary of the observable universe, thought to be much smaller than the greater universe, which lies beyond the limits of our perception. This mystery and the uncertainty it provokes were reflected in the placement of these silent witnesses: looking down upon the city, their spread and number were never totally revealed.
Inside the gallery, Blind Light, the centerpiece of the exhibition, offered an intentionally disorienting experience. A large glass cube containing a billowing cloud beckoned invitingly. Once entered, however, it Produced an alarming effect on the senses, as one became temporarily blinded and suffocated by the combined atmosphere of fluorescent lights, ultrasonic humidifiers, aluminum, and water. The captured viewer became the subject of the work, invisible to others inside the cube, but clearly visible to those outside as a shadowy form helplessly groping around the enclosure, hands against the glass walls in panicky rotation. This installation look Gormley’s work to a new level of audience participation, one in which science fiction and bizarre laboratory experiment combined to create a disquieting endurance test for the hapless participants.
Space Station, a massive 27-ton steel structure, was equally disorienting. Titled unnervingly in a corner of the gallery’s brutalest interior, it invited viewers to walk around its circumference, but this time from the outside. This labyrinthine structure, constructed of cubes of varying dimensions, furthers Gormtey’s Ongoing concerns with the relationship of the human body to the space it inhabits. With its clear allusions to an orbiting asteroid, Space Station distinctly questions the potentially break future of human destiny. A vacant citadel, representing both individual compression and the expansive, collective city environment, Space Station was designed to unhinge any feelings of comfort viewers might have with the existing dimensions of their domain.
ln addition to these new works, more familiar body casts were distributed throughout the building, often defying gravity in their awkward positioning-crawling up walls, swatted against corners of rooms, lying in walkways, hanging from ceilings, and culminating in the extraordinary Matrices and expositions, an open room of light-infused body zones. Here, solid form was replaced by open structures of stainless steel-seemingly weightless constructions depicting dematerialized body forms, emerging slowly to the eye. ln contrast, Hotch, a self-contained room within the gallery space, invited viewers to enter and negotiate its area. Hatch was presented as a maze, a field in three dimensions that the viewer could navigate privately white still remaining partially visible to those outside the porous walls. lnside, aluminum tubes protruded from all angles, creating the impression of a giant 1950s Constructionist artwork merged with a medieval torture chamber. On entering, the viewer became a momentary but integral part of the work, which, like Blind Light and Space Station, offered an uncomfortable, claustrophobic experience.
This exhibition created a heightened awareness of Gormley’s potentially apocalyptic vision of the future, as the struggle between man and his confused place in the world continues. Ironically, one of tvent Horizon’s figures was mistakenly identified as an actual human being, perched despairingly with dubious intent at the building’s edge. A rescue attempt was set in motion before anyone realized that the figure was in fact inanimate and did not need saving. Clearly the power of Gormley s work to provoke strong feeling and controversy remains undiminished. Although the new works have lost some of the subtle poetry present in his earlier pieces, they certainly act as a catalyst for our deepest fears and serve as a hard reminder of our vulnerability and dependence on the physical world.
– lna Cole