New Art Centre Sculpture Park and Gallery
From his earliest hollow bodyworks, which he refers to as body-cases, to the later solid body-forms, concretes, and expanded works, Antony Gormley has negotiated and renegotiated the body’s edge.
A 1979 drawing , Exercise between Blood and Earth, traced lines around and within a running man, diminishing inward from the outline to the finest geometric shapes within head, chest, feet and expanding outward, becoming more and more rounded-the individual blood, the smallest enclosed shapes within the depicted body, merging with the breadth of the surrounding shape, the encircling world. This twin impulse to expansion and contraction has defined Gormley’s sculpture over the past 10 years.
His recent works-the Domains and Quantum Clouds (1999-2001)-have exploded the dilemma, doing away entirely with articulated surfaces. But before he arrived at these works, he passed through the lnsiders, a
group of which are on display in Roche Courts new glass-walled gallery. These works represent the inward terminus of the dynamic of expansion and contraction. They are all reduced by 60 percent from the body’s natural width, though they retain the height of Gormley’s own body, which is their basis.
The manufacture of his first very large public work, The Angel of the North (1997), required that the mold of his body be reduced all over by 12.5 millimeters to allow structurally necessary radial ribs to be placed half within and half without the surface of the body. From this experience, Gormley made Under My Skin (1997), which was similarly reduced by 12.5 millimeters and then covered by thousands of pins of exactly that length, so that the surface of the body was removed and its outside edge defined by the pins’ ends.
This piece has been pivotal in Gormley’s work of the past five years. Breaking the edge allowed the dissolution that defines the Domains and Quantum Clouds, while the overall reduction of the figure’s core initiated a process of condensing the body that culminated in the Insiders.
These figures are a dark essence of the body. Weirdly totemic, they are Gormley’s most confrontational
works. Whereas his more familiar sculpture presents the viewer either with the body’s presence (in the body-cases and body-forms) or its absence (in the concretes and expanded works), the lnsiders are at once there and not there. Visible, they are yet displaced, as if they were the leavings or the incised shadows of absent bodies. Though recognizably human, they are at the same time strangely insect-like, their hands clenched claws, limbs skeletal sticks.
The lnsiders’ strength lies in their concentration, their immediate weakness in their tending to caricature. Since their form is so intensified, the effect they bear is also heightened, made more obviously weighty. And this begs the point of whether their form is significant enough to bear this weight. Four of the five pieces on display at Roche Court succeed, largely because their stance is plain-they stand upright, backs arched, hands at their sides. Only Insider lX/Weeds II (1998) differs in its posture, bent with arms hanging heavily forward. This piece, in its attitude of dejection, theatrically enacts an emotion that might have been more subtly embodied in one of Gormleys prior works (even a very early work such as Sea from the triple-composition Land, Sea and Air (1982) is more eloquent of alienation). ln fact, I felt this single piece undermined the integrity of the ensemble.
The gallery’s south-facing glass wall floods the Insiders with natural light and allows visitors to look into the gallery from the gardens, and out on the gardens from the gallery. Looking from inside or out, the glass also underlines the lnsiders‘ separation from the world outside. When we look in on them, they are intractably inward, the glass reflection of the surrounding trees and sky locking them in to the gallery’s enclosure. And when we look out from behind the glass, we see ourselves as clearly as the lnsiders, reflected back, ghostly presences facing the world.