Anthony Gormley: a controversial artist with a controversial statue

Sir Antony Gormley is a name that needs no introduction. His sculptures are found across the world, from gallery exhibitions, to private collections, to the public sphere itself. Most notably in our immediate locale is the Angel of the North (1998), and the recently installed Clasp (2018)- situated between the Northern Stage and Student Union- […]

Rory Cameron
6th March 2019

Sir Antony Gormley is a name that needs no introduction. His sculptures are found across the world, from gallery exhibitions, to private collections, to the public sphere itself. Most notably in our immediate locale is the Angel of the North (1998), and the recently installed Clasp (2018)- situated between the Northern Stage and Student Union- which, in classic Gormley style, occupies space and finds itself in dialogue with the individuals around it, rather than simply dominating them. 

On 21st November, the celebrated artist spoke to a packed-out lecture theatre, narrating the journey through his body of work, which lead up to the sculpture now found on our campus. A sculpture which has caused some controversy- with some students demanding its removal. To this, Gormley replied, “I don’t know if it’s good or strictly speaking necessary… but then again, what is?”

The artist explained the choice to place the piece in the centre of one of the main university pathways was to have the two embracing figures invite deconstruction, in the middle of the stream of human life which flows around them day and night. “Culture is not real culture, unless it is shared,” explained Sir Antony. The piece has notably evolved with the elements, with the grey iron turning to a rusty orange over the past few months. An apt choice perhaps, given the evolutionary and transformative nature of the university experience.

Sir Antony felt that the brooding, silent and resistant images of sculpture offered something which images are unable to

Speaking about his medium of choice Sir Antony felt that the brooding, silent and resistant images of sculpture offered something which images are unable to. In regards to his personal canon of work, the artist highlighted how even from some of his earliest work such as Chromosome (1984), he posed the question over what it is to be human. Over time, Gormley has continued to explore the meaning of humanity in relation to environments (such as the Sculpture for Derry Walls, infamously attacked and damaged upon its installation at the height of the Troubles) and in relation to other human beings alike.

Gormley moved away from making full-body casts of himself in recent years, to now rather scanning his body and working on the form from there, such as what we see in Clasp. The 1988 work Mountain and Sea, which used moulds of the artist hugging another mould of himself was made with the idea of the harbour of another body. Gormley specified that he wanted this translated into another language, of crude and geometric shapes; these hallmarks can also be seen in the sculpture we find in the centre of our campus now.

“We discover ourselves through our relationships with others”

The most obvious development being, the striking use of simple pixel-like building blocks for the deconstructed bodies; bodies which share a pelvis, yet one figure appears to pull back from the embrace. The centre of gravity high on the platform is unstable, and one can feel an undercurrent in danger in this uncertainty. “We discover ourselves through our relationships with others,” Gormley said, before adding “Now more than ever, the 21st century needs a talking cure, for we have forgotten how to talk to ourselves. The notion that we are strangers to ourselves has been forgotten.

Ultimately, the artist said that he hoped through his work one could understand the “The great consolation of being born, finding another body in which we can find a place. A body nesting in another body, taking away the idea of the erotic.” Before closing, he admitted that he expected that many people would have climbed all over the installation, and was shocked that nobody in the lecture hall had admitted to already having done so.  That is, until this week, where following the consent of the great artist himself, and a battle with both Newcastle University security and Health & Safety, Fine Art student Cameron Jarvie had a small soap gnome installed atop Clasp. Indeed, the artwork continues to evolve.

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