Critique : WHAT YOU CANNOT SEE

WHAT YOU CANNOT SEE

Antony Gormley: Blind Light

The Hayward Gallery
17 May-19 August 2007

What You Cannot See
The Hayward Gallery
23 May 2007

REVIEWED BY LANA J. MULLEN

Is art all about the artist? Or, should art be able to breathe for itself, stand upright and twist the knobs, rattle the frames and creep outside gallery doors? One can almost imagine Antony Gormley’s figures opening their eyelids, peeking out as you pass, seemingly unhinging themselves from the walls of the Hayward Gallery and climbing to the rooftops of South Bank- stalking you as you walk along the Thames. Call me paranoid.

Worse still, let us call Gormley egotistical for casting repetitive sculptures of his own body for the past twenty years. Why does he feel the need to replicate himself, tugging tweezers of hair from his skull, moulding clones to be hung by the noose? His thirty-one figures have sprung up along the London skyline, a serving of goosebumps that take on an almost Frankenstein quality, a mere mimicry of creation entitled Event Horizon, 2007. As the title indicates, an underlining sense of uncertainty should sink in- how many figures are there beyond those that cannot be seen?

Stepping into the first gallery space, one finds oneself anchored by the steel structured asteroid entitled Space Station, 2007. Walking beneath the underbelly of this Megatron army, one shudders at the thought that these clinging metal cubes will shift their magnetic rods and form missiles. Where is Gormley in all this? Sneaking a close up peek inside the perforated edges, you assume he is lurking somewhere in the rusty crevasses. These Cor-ten steel plates bear no resemblance to constellations of human skin. Instead, their freckles are scribbled numbers, codes, foreign Gormley script. One would almost need a cipher and torch to find meaning in this perfunctory foetus- as intended, it remains a question for the future.
 

The ramp steers intrigued spectators towards the mesmeric light where they are cuffed in frames that repeat down the assembly line. Inside these cages you can find Gormley snap shots brushed in India ink. A synchronized array of blotches serve as a Rorschach test for spectators - images of alien silhouettes emerging in a fuzzy grain, cascading blocks of monochrome blurs and mapped topography of fingertips and toes. Scuffled soles lay a track along the light box entitled Blind Light, 2007. If touched on both sides, the damp ice cube serves as a conductor between the observers and those within the frame who function as art. Mumbles of discussion trail down the line… “typical British weather in a box, maybe it will look like heaven, maybe we’re all standing in a cue for Auschwitz, who knows?”

Step into the glass. Become draped by a mist of vapor, your ankles sloshing into puddles and soaking layers of insecurity. We have been stripped bare, standing naked inside the comfort of these glass walls and none is the wiser. The term blind sounds inaccurate for the imprint Gormley presses upon you. There is no blindfold tied to your head, or anyone telling you to close your lids or turn away from the man-made weather machine. In fact, you have your eyes open to the artificial sun; you can see the fog around you and the blurred figures ahead. The blindness is in the way that what you can see is camouflaged by what you cannot.

Rather than struggling to find the hand of someone nearby, or to see something other than shades of haze, why not stop for a moment and absorb the ‘clarity’? Ask yourself ‘where am I?’ If you respond inside, you’re wrong. If you reply outside, you’re wrong yet again. As impossible as it sounds, you have stepped inside a box in order to be transported ‘outside', while in truth you are inside a box that sits inside a room that fits into a building that jumps three floors high. If confusion has set in, you are not alone. Instead of over-analyzing, take the easy route and laugh at the fact that you are trapped in a labyrinth of fog and you’ve just paid eight pounds to get pissed on.

So you shake out your umbrella and trudge along to Allotment II of 1996. Crouching along the streets and avenues of this semblance of a Chinese ceramic army, claustrophobia begins to shrink in- sandwiched between blocks of sentinels within a scrunched intimate space drives one to measure the width of legroom, same way one maneuvers a trolley around aisles. Gormley has simplified his clone army and taken measurements of Swedish men, women and children for his concrete soldiers.

Surprisingly, these statues are not clones of Gormley. This is probably why, in exchange for his spider dwelling stalkers, he has condensed human form down to metres. In discarding the organic swerving curves at the hips and arms, in fact there are no limbs to be found, cuboid forms have replaced slender posture alongside ego. As humans, we are compressed into simple chunks of concrete gouged with orifices for mouths and ears, moulded into icons of architecture; a reflection of the buildings we construct.

Atop the stairwell, one finds an intricate entanglement of delicately welded steel tubes and rods entitled Capacitor, 2001. Strands of thin stripped metal are twisted and weaved to form a caste of who else? Gormley complicates his mannequins by attaching outbursts of erratic spokes. These knotty shells disguise the negative space within, forcing the internal figure to operate as a void. Circling the suspended nests, hung like lanterns or light fixtures without bulbs, the image changes shape. The clumsy web forms an optical illusion making it tricky to decide whether or not the porcupine chimes are contracting or expanding.

What if all you had imagined repeating chimney sweep after smokestack after satellite after… was in fact false? What if the Gormley clones stopped at one and not thirty-one, that South Bank was capped inside a snow globe, that what we see outside our windows is actually inside, that we are the clones in this city of look-alikes being watched despite the fact we cannot see him.

Images:
1) Event Horizon 2007, Antony Gormley. Photograph: Lana Mullen
2) Space Station, 2007, Antony Gormley. Copyright the artist. Photograph: Stephen White.
3) Blind Light, 2007, Antony Gormley Copyright the artist, photograph Stephen White.   

LANA MULLEN is a junior at the State University of New York at Geneseo, majoring in Art History with a Contemporary concentration and a minor in Creative Writing. She is currently taking a summer studio course at Kingston University in London. She is a Ciaroscuro intern.

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