Still Being: a conversation about time in art – 12 June 2012

Here are my notes from his conversation.

He is interested in solid matter and the void – finding that “lead seemingly insulates against time”.

Talking about his piece ‘Land, Sea, Air‘ he spoke of the stone he wrapped in lead 3 times. He then cut the lead up and resealed – 1 wrap encasing the stone, another is empty (and therefore filled with air) and another filled with water. He liked that this allowed the imagination to come into play. That the lead transformed the 3 elements in the title physically in the mind – as you didn’t know which lead case contained which element. He liked playing with taking a primary substance and allowing it to be replaced by an imaginary substance.

He finds that spatial displacement is a catalyst for re-engagement with the world around us.

He regards his body casts as forensic evidence of a body existing in time “A record of a lived moment”.

He has been influenced by Segal (I am assuming he means George – I’ve seen some of his work in New York and I would say yes…).

Gormley’s work with his own body came from the fact that he touched stuff all the time. He used his teeth as a tool in Bed (his bed of toast) – and interesting conveyed that 1 loaf of Mother’s Pride bread would stretch out to 10.5m 1 bite at a time! It took him 3.5 months to eat the equivalent of his own body out of the bread.

He likes taking an object and turning it into a record of time. A marker in time is the displacement of space and he engages us in this.

He likes using the body as a place rather than a thing. He loves Egyptian sculpture over Greek because it seems to be about the celebration of human demise and death. They Egyptians attempt to evoke timelessness in a human form.

Everyday life seems very rushed now and we seem to have forgotten what biological time is. He sees his work as an obstacle to easy reference and likes that it forces people to stop, slow down and think, look. By putting his ‘Event Horizon‘ figures on top of the Hayward Gallery he provoked people to “stop in their tracks and re-examine their context”. An “imaginative participation”.

He felt it was important for the Event Horizon figures to have that distance from the viewer so there was an invitation to reconnect with the topography of the area. To invite you to reassess the world these figures have disrupted. To be disruptive, yet questioning of the world we now share with them – he wanted them to be out in the open, not ‘institutionalised’ in museums. When asked, he did not see them (or was happy with them) as being ‘lonely’ figures, as he felt that reading was too easy and literal.

The name Event Horizon is to infer the concentration that has evolved around London, but when in it, not knowing where that ends – like a black hole. He said “They’re useless for what you traditionally expect a statue to do. But you get a connectivity about it – where groups of people gather and start to look up. Connect.” It’s this reflectivity that he’s interested in. Event Horizon is a black hole in human form. Their function is empty – yet there’s a collective.

Hi work has passed along the path of object > place > event – each progression has added to the above notions along the way.

The 4th plinth work (One & Other) came about from him wondering how many of his body casts he could fit on the plinth – in the same vein as ‘how many people can you fit in a mini/phone box?’ etc. which evolved into a “collective portrait of us now”. There were 2,400 events – each spanning an hour which all to be coordinated – it was important that the participant’s time was purposeful. A plinth is usually th place for ‘a dead king or military heroes. Why shouldn’t it be for the people?’

His work ‘Horizon Field‘ in Hamburg is a structural sculpture that you interact with by walking on it. It has a painted glass surface which gives infinite depth. You must take your shoes off to walk on it and, as it is suspended, you can move it as a group (making it sway up to 1.74m before the alarms go off). He says it is a “collective, joyful experience” as you can feel others walking on it and the “viewers become the viewed” as part of the experience. He found that children tought their parents how to behave – by being playful on it. He regards it as “a monochrome you can stand on” and that this piece is no longer a representation, but is life itself.

Field was made by communities. He asked “How did art as expression of collective values express itself?” What the potential social responsibility of art could be? leading to the collective potential of art to be a collective focus.

Gormley is trying to make instruments where

  1. the viewer becomes aware of their own being in time
  2. and acknowledge in a consciously objective way, to make an account of what it feels like to exist in a body.

At the Hermitage in St Petersburg, his sculptures were looking at ancient sculptures – like they were looking at one another across time. The floor was raised here to reduce the ‘gods’ of the ancient sculptures to the same level as the viewer, allowing them to be proprioceptive [relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, esp. those connected with the position and movement of the body. Compare with exteroceptive and interoceptive] and to become aware of a greater sense of scale and moment, thoughts and feelings and how the gods have become humanised. They have been demoted – but not denigrated – to allow us to see them body to body.

His works are propositions that only have value when they are a shared experience. These experiences are an ‘uprising’ rather than an ‘actualisation’. He is much more interested in making an open question and the event than a fixed outcome.

There are many different concepts of time: human time, cosmological time etc. and was asked if we could understand one aspect of his sculpture as an attempt to see that? Gormley said yes. His casts also acknowledge that the human race will inevitably become extinct. I WILL happen. Human time in relation to deep time is insignificant – but how do we shift our core beliefs to consider what our future will be?

Gormley wants to destabilise our certainties – so we reassess relationships to those around us.

He’s aware of aesthetic conditions, but doesn’t necessarily care or want to be in control of them. He finds transcendence troublesome because it gives objects the ability to ‘project’. He doesn’t claim that his work has any intrinsic power. It is us that projects that onto his work.

Dispersion is a focus in ‘Horizon Field‘ – the figures are literally ‘lost in time’ and are spread out over 150 square km in Austria.

Gormley wouldn’t claim his work is beautiful – he thinks it is quite clumsy. I suppose this means that he can convey the messages and dialogue he wants to provoke without concentrating on distracting details.

On his titles he said ‘Horizon’ is something we try to go beyond – but it always moves. What lies beyond the limits of our perception? This is what he likes about art. Every moment of being is about encountering the unknown – that nothing is ever predictable. “Territory is unpossessable – as is a body.” Art can return to you that knowledge of being and nothingness – “that at any point this can stop, whatever this is”.

He likes to allow his work to not be “closed, but more open” (which are my words exactly!)

He likes to look at the relative permanence or impermanence of things.

He thinks that sculpture is traditionally about making a fleeting moment permanent in time. Post 1915 we have the understanding that space=time=space and that events and objects are “mutable and uncertain”. e.g. bodies in the sea. The structures and surrounds change space over time etc. etc. When he made Another Place he didn’t want to make a direct representation of tidal flow and how it changed (i.e. not making sand marks etc. – hence using bodies so show the change instead). He thinks it is imperative (in a determined way) to make “full stops in time and place” that invites you to go into them. Which is exactly what Event Horizon and Another Place do.

He likes his work to release his thought process – a catalyst for you to ‘resee’ things for the first time. There’s no expectation for his work evoke a particular reaction.

It has been suggested that ‘his work is made for a religion that doesn’t exist yet’ and this worries him. There is no correct way of relating to his work, he just wants it to make people more open and aware.

He believes he is using his life as “a test site for finding out what it means to be alive”. The body is a common experience and a good vehicle. He’s trying to rethink what art is and how it works.

He said that Mondrian wanted art to universal and cruelly the ‘language’ that developed in art at that time alienated the people. Gormley went to the body hoping to find something that wasn’t limited by the rules of engagement. Being on the other side of appearance – describing the body as its potential, but not being precise about it.


Antony Gormley
 (b.1950, London, UK)
Over the past 30 years, using his own body as subject, tool and material, Antony Gormley has explored the human image in sculpture, investigating the figure as a site of memory and transformation. He has created some of the most ambitious and iconic works of British sculpture over the past two decades, including The Angel of the North at Gateshead; Another Place, now permanently sited on Crosby Beach at Sefton in Lancashire, and Blind Light, the brightly-lit, cloud-filled box in which the bodies of visitors seem to vanish and reappear, shown at the Hayward Gallery in 2007.
In 2009, his project One and Other invited members of the public to represent themselves by standing on the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. Gormley believes that, in a world where nothing is permanent, ‘the mind-body instrument is an infinitely extendable tool and that the adventure of being human is far from over.’For Wide Open School he talks with the art critic and historian Michael Newman, whose own interests lie in the image, the trace and time.Michael Newman
Michael Newman is an art historian and critic whose writing is concerned with the image, the trace and time in art and philosophy. He teaches in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is Professor of Art Writing at Goldsmiths College in the University of London. His publications include the books Richard Prince: Untitled (couple) and Jeff Wall, and he is co-editor with Jon Bird of Rewriting Conceptual Art.
Still Being: a conversation about time in art
Celebrated artist Antony Gormley talks with critic and writer Michael Newman, Professor of Art Writing at Goldsmiths College.

Michael Newman is an art historian and critic whose writing is concerned with the image, the trace and time in art and philosophy. He teaches in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is Professor of Art Writing at Goldsmiths college in the Univeristy of London. His publications include the books Richard Prince: Untitled (couple) and Jef Wall, and he is co-editor with |John Bird of Rewriting Conceptual Art”


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