0, 1, 3, 150, 35 000, 25 000, 40 000, 190 000, Many, All.
From Mass And Empathy, Fundaçāo Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004
In 1936, Barbara Hepworth wrote ‘Sculpture’, an article published in the collection Circle, International Survey of Constructive Art, edited by J. L. Martin, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo. In it, she stated that ‘the idea - the imaginative concept - actually is the giving of life and vitality to material; but when we come to define these qualities we find that they have very little to do with the physical aspect of sculpture. When we say that a great sculpture has vision, power, vitality, scale, poise, form or beauty, we are not speaking of physical attributes. Vitality is not a physical, organic attribute of sculpture - it is a spiritual inner life’.1 In the same publication, J. D. Bernal explored the ways in which the relationship between art and science was a process of mutual alimentation.2 An Antony Gormley sculpture has traces of that idea of a spiritual inner life, but also asks sophisticated questions about contemporary Physics. The sculptor is interested in Field theory, which he believes leads to ‘the immersion in processes rather than the observation of discrete entities’ found both in Fractal Geometry and Chaos Theory. His engagement with post-Quantum Theory physics arises out of his belief that ‘an engagement with energy rather than matter is relevant as the subjective experience of states rather than the Cartesian, mechanical, objective, universal laws of Newtonian Physics’.3 For Gormley, sculpture allows the mind to act on and inhabit matter, and so sculpture complements, without blurring their distinctions, the connections science demonstrates’.4
A line in 20th century British sculpture seems to have been defined by a void introduced into mass and volume as significant sculptural material. Not only voids, but orifices, holes, hollows and emptied spaces abound everywhere. The organic void integrates the vitality of Henry Moore’s sculpture or unfolds as an almost metaphysical space in Hepworth’s 1936 sculpture of two spheres on a plane. There is also geometry constructed as shadow, light, volume and concrete void in the reliefs of Ben Nicholson. These British artists were working on plastic problems raised by continental European sculpture, especially by the Russian constructivists, such as Pevsner and Gabo who was one of the Circle organisers. ‘Volume of mass and volume of space are not the same thing structurally’, wrote Gabo in his article ‘Sculpture: Carving and Construction in Space’ in the collection referred to above.5 It is always Gabo who brings light to expose sculpture’s material structure. Nonetheless, that void introduced in sculpture cannot simply be reduced to absence, lack or deficit, because it imposes a hypothesis of a precise significant condition. Hepworth talks of a ‘sculptural incorporation of the idea’. Currently, the physical void has been converted into a conceptual diagram confronting the visible with the invisible in the work of sculptors like Antony Gormley. This artist’s sculptural process can be seen as the emergence of complexity. Emerging in the last quarter of the 20th century, Gormley’s work has established its place between ‘perception and truth’, as Stuart Morgan has said.6 What was void becomes a vortex into which they rush or belongs to a ‘black hole universe where matter has been turned inside-out’.7
The void continues to be present in contemporary sculpture - in the apparent formalism of Richard Serra or as an implicit strategy in the oeuvre of Antony Gormley. These works operate against a conceptual deficit. In the terrifying picture of a world manipulated by communication technology that Paul Virilio has called ‘A Bomba da Informaçao’ or ‘The Information Bomb’, Gormley’s work escapes empirical capitalist logic, summed up in the maxim ‘what you see is what you get’ or the minimalist ‘less is more’. Other artists, Gormley’s contemporaries, such as Cildo Meireles and Iñigo Maglano-Ovalle, criticise this logic, especially in its processes of circulation and accumulation or the connection between knowledge and power. The field of capitalist economy finds its exact counterpart in the instance of language and writing: the opposition between the signifier and the signified is seen as the ‘split’ between use value and exchange value’’.8
Antony Gormley produces ‘action gaps’. This is similar to what happens in all languages, according to Levi-Strauss in La Pensée Sauvage (1962). Nonetheless, discourse and syntax provide the indispensable resources to compensate for these ‘gaps in vocabulary’.9 In 1967, Gormley was reading anthropology in Cambridge, the year after La Pensée Sauvage had been translated into English. The sculptural field is a working area for Gormley where ‘savage sculptural thinking’ denotes an ethic. He says that ‘I am trying to make an anthropological art - in that I use the human being as my raw material and the body as my vehicle in ways that do not accept all the specialisations of art’s status’.10
For Hepworth, ideas in art mean responsibilities for both the artist and spectator: ‘Vision is not sight - it is the perception of the mind’. Her text, ‘Sculpture’, also drew attention to the difference between analytical action and the physical fact of seeing. This is another reason why Gormley’s sculpture needs to be seen in terms of cognitive action, even if the artist himself has said his work ‘is to make a place, free from knowledge, free from history, free from nationality to be experienced freely.’11 Hepworth is empirically close to the phenomenology developed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in the post war period. When Gormley made Planets, for the forecourt of the British Library, he said he wanted ‘to celebrate the body and its dependency on matter within the context of this repository for the mind. It is a tribute to independent creative thinking’. That political- epistemological operation qualifies and particularises Gormley’s production.
For the artist, the body cast in sculpture is a potential point of fusion between sensation and intelligence, making it ‘a point of potential, a point of power’. 12 Sculpture therefore becomes the ‘perfect shelter for the body’. Politically, the potential dislocator of art13 has been announced by Clark (Baba Antropofágica, Cabeça Coletiva and other works), and renovated by Gormley(in Field, for example). In stating that sculpture is a testament to a ‘lived moment’ that has been transformed from its flesh and ‘mortality into another time zone’,14 Gormley could be seen as approaching the notions of corps vécu developed through Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. The French philosopher’s L’Oeil et L’Esprit,15 which also quotes PaulValéry (’la peinture apporte son corps’), could be applied to the sculpture of Giacometti or Gormley: ‘it is by lending his body to the world that the painter changes the world into painting’16 or, in this case, into sculpture.
Antony Gormley’s sculpture inscribes ‘initial lines of force’ to organise the sculptural field and propitiate the inscription of experience. His attitude meets that which Jacques Lacan was looking for, is something he saw materialised through the field developed by Claude Lévi-Strauss in La Pensée Sauvage. ‘Before any experience’, Lacan observed in this context, ‘even before the collective experiences that can only be related to social needs are inscribed, something organises this field, inscribing the initial lines of force upon it’.17 Lévi-Strauss argues that totemic truth - with its appearance (and this does not go against what is done in Gormley’s work) - is the primary classifying function. The anthropologist further argues that the savage thought is totalising and that the mythological reason operates with perceptions and concepts. In La Pensée Sauvage, games appear as disjunctive experiences for individuals. In contrast, the sculpture of Antony Gormley, like rituals discussed by Levi-Strauss in the chapter La science du concret, sets a conjunctive experience between the artist and the viewer. Occasionally, Gormley works within the social fabric of Otherness.
Antony Gormley consumed the volume of his own body in bread to produce the sculpture Bed (1980-81). Mould (1981) was the first sculpture he made based on his own body. In other works, the denoting character of the human presence, as in Cord (1991), has as much of the organic connotation of the umbilical cord as produces the uncanny in architecture and the irrational in engineering. The volume taken from the great block made out of slices of bread, leaves the shape of the artist’s body stretched out in Bed. The artist, nevertheless, is not producing narcissistic self-portraits with this use of his own body as a measure, but rather setting up an experimental field: the being in the world. As he has said, ‘I’m interested in the body as a place, as a space of becoming’ adding, in other words, ‘I’m interested in the body as a possible space where something that we might call identity or we might call meaning can arise...’18 Bed, perhaps, harks back to Bruce Nauman’s Collection of various flexible materials separated by layers of grease with holes the size of my waist and wrists (1966). They are works that evoke the classic canonical relation of sculpture with the human body. This is also sculptural work with a clear ethos. The anti-mannerist Gormley has something in common with Michelangelo, who described the action of sculpture ‘per forza di levare’, as taking matter from the block to release a figure existing within it awaiting the sculptor. Gormley’s Bed could be a homophonic distortion of ‘bread’. The action suggests that the removal of the eaten bread forms the figure in the empty space - representation and presence - of the artist himself. ‘Per forza di levare’ here is eating your own volume - a new canonical measure based on mass and volume, traditional qualities of sculpture. Sculpture could also be ‘that other’ - and not what is before our eyes ... That other sculpture might be the sculptor himself, his body transformed that, consuming the new mass of art (bread), is energy and metabolism. This is the transition between the self and the Other, which could provisionally be the sculpture itself. Having thus made himself present in his work, Gormley tells us that in his metal works, such as Critical Mass, ‘I have concentrated on the skin - the surface where substance gives way to appearance. The lead acts as a transforming membrane that dematerializes the body. The potential within this place of the body is expressed sometimes as visible darkness, sometimes as pressure, sometimes as emanation or extension’.19
The psychological intensity of the Critical Mass figures harks back, even if in contrast, to Saint Teresa of Bernini in her joy and sublimation, leading to her ecstatic vision of desire. The contemporary sculptors, Louise Bourgeois and Maria Martins, work with a kind of libidinal investment transferred to matter. Gormley infuses the sculpture with a potency creating an ‘interior pressure’, something that seems to be trying to burst out of the skin. ‘Action can be confused with life. Much of human life is hidden. Sculpture, in stillness, can transmit what may not be seen’, he has observed.20
A radical aspect of the phenomenology of being in Brancusi’s work is the way sculptural volume is rendered to the surface as a point of articulation with the world. This is the case with O Recem Nascido or Escultura Para Cegos. Gormley has formed not only the state of being of Critical Mass, but also the way of establishing its presence in the world and condensing affectivity in the object. He has a dissonant proximity to the more radical phenomenology of the Lygia Clark of Caminhando (Walking)21 who, like Lacan, finds abstract hypotheses on the experience of being in the formless act within the topology of the Moebius strip. In Gormley’s sculpture, there is a force against formlessness. His imagery is closest to the figural in Bacon in his search for the possible configuration of the being in psychic labour. ‘Each work is a place between form and formlessness, a time between origin and becoming’. 22
’India helped me value ‘being ‘ itself - not thinking and doing, just being. By focusing the attention on the body through Vipassana meditation (which I studied on and off for two or three years), I experienced consciousness at the centre of a transitive field of energy in which the ‘me’ of the ordering mind was expelled’.23 The artist’s sculpture is a point of union between the external and sensorial world, of the imaginary and the metaphysical. Each sculpture is a knot in a spiritual cross thread, where the etymological root of the term religion, in addition to its more remote Latin origin, lies in the French religare (or bind).
In his method, Antony Gormley takes formal, geometrical or abstract structures and combines their meaning. His work is, at times, similar to the neo-concrete strategies of Clark, Oiticica and Lygia Pape in recovering subjectivity, whether the artist’s or the public’s, in experimentation and perceptive processes of geometrical and topological structures. Quantum Cloud (2000) is a 30 metre tall sculpture, set on a pontoon close to a riverbank. The first impression is that it is made up of random tetrahedrons. Chaos theory and fractal growth techniques were used to create the steel elements that simulate the physical structure of clouds. Nevertheless, a closer look reveals a central density that, like the presence of a tornado , corresponds to the human form. This relationship with the fleetingness of the cloud form and the coming to be of man, the relationship between the conjectural reasoning of recognising the shapes of objects in clouds (see Roger Caillois on this point)24 and the mutability of being, is an issue in Gormley’s sculpture that finds echoes in the sculptor, Roni Horn’s, photographic installation Clowd And Cloun (Blue). The semantic questions in Horn’s visual system lead to paradoxes involving the performative character of the evanescent in cloud and clown movements, and the playing with homophones and switching letters in Clowd And Cloun. Quantum Cloud awakens perception. Between the artist (or his presence in the sculpture) and the spectator, there is a second ‘entity’ covering an articulation of the look.
In the corpus of his work, Gormley introduces and justifies the presence of tripartite structures: ‘Three is the beginning of infinity. The lowest possible number with which a universal meaning is adumbrated’.25 For the sculptor, the meaning of the gap now unfolds. Gormley has developed a concrete logic of being, through unexpectedly enigmatic pieces such as Fruits Of The Earth (1978-9), Land, Sea And Air I (1977-1979), and Three Bodies (1981). They are triadic sculptures, formed by three articulated volumes spread around the ground. These trios seem definitively set in time. Signified and signifiers in the field have something similar to the dialogue of the two spheres in Hepworth’s 1936 sculpture.
The history of art shows us various groups of three figures, from the holy trinity to the Three Graces of Canova and Thorvaldsen. In Cuzco nos in the Andes, some colonial painters depicted the three Persons of the Holy Trinity as the same image of the Father. The triadic situation of Rodin’s Shades in Gates Of Hell is similar, with the same figure appearing three times. For Rosalind Krauss, Rodin followed the line of opacity and self-reference: ‘The Shades do not form with each other a relationship that seems capable of signification, of creating a sign that is transparent to its meaning’.26 In various cases, three different volumes are confronted in Gormley’s sculpture and seem frozen by logical nonsense. They come across an increasing impasse in an apparently incongruous visual field. What breaks the silence between the pieces and creates dialogue, qualitatively altering the sense of distance and interrupting the semantic immobility of the whole, is the hermeneutic and perceptual action of the spectator. Language appears in the cracks that break the gaps.
The trios of Gormley lead to the semiotics of Peirce, which explores a triadic division and ideas of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness. In his youth, the linguist discussed this division through the pronouns I, it and thou. His work states that a triadic relationship cannot be expressed by a dual relationship only.27 ‘Thirdness’, Peirce argues, ‘is the characteristic of an object that is incarnate in itself - the Being-Between or Mediation in its simplest and most rudimentary form’.28 Peirce’s Theory of Signs discusses the Third as Symbol. 29 ‘Thirdness, for me, is only a synonym for Representation [...] It can now be said that a general operating principle in the real world has something of Representation and Symbol by nature, because its modus operandi is the same as that through which words produce their physical effects’.30 Gormley’s sculpture uses this intellectual mediation to produce physical facts re-qualified through the projection of the signified.
150, 35 000, 25 000, 40 000 or 190 000.
An imposing proliferation of clay figures is almost limitless. Antony Gormley’s first Field installation was made in London (1989), with 150 terracotta pieces. He then produced one in Cholula (Mexico, 1990), with 35 000 made by the brick-making Texca family. In Porto Velho(Brazil, 1992), he used 25 000, and Field For The British Isles (1993) has 40 000. His latest work in the series, Asian Field (Guangzhou, China, 2003), is the biggest at 190 000. The Field experiments are a kind of cartography, but the map is each figure as a locus of the subject. Gormley has developed his own travelling theory, attentive to the metaphoricity of peoples. His movements understand, like Homi Bhabha, that in times of migration the visually homogeneous time of that horizontal society is dispersed.31
In Field, Gormley asked people to touch the earth. Forty people had to ‘make an equivalent of themselves, but in a size that would fit in their hands. [...] It was also the moment when the clay became conscious’.32 The role of the artist is to be the catalyst of this political economy of culture. Gormley comes closer to the cannibalistic proposition of relations of otherness set up by Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica. Despite being less close to the oblique shamanism of Joseph Beuys, Gormley nonetheless debates the meaning of the latter’s social sculpture: ‘The political potential of art is that it recognizes the value of individual growth - what Beuys called ‘creative capital’ - and this has nothing to do with economics. The only revolution that is going to work is an interior one.’ The minimal difference between the thousands of figures in the various versions of Field is a sign of desire. Each distinction coincides with the unique, individualised experience of corps vécu in which doing is making a self-portrait. Gormley is fascinated by seeing the act of transforming hands into a pattern and mould from which comes a form: ‘What excites me is the potential of sculpture and inert material to produce energy... the degree to which the work displays inertia is the degree to which the audience is invited to interact with it’.33 Therefore, a sculpture including the human figure can be called Matter.
Marx argues that ‘in its form of value, merchandise conserves not the slightest trace of the value of its first use, nor of the particular useful work which gave it origin’.34 In his article ‘Marx et l’Inscription du Travail’, J.-J. Goux establishes analogical writing/work, sense/value relationships.35 Artists like Gormley, Antonio Dias and Cildo Meireles reject the complicity between the logocentricity and fetishism of money and merchandise. Dias reveals the incongruities of the market and the place of a work of art within in it, exhibiting working tools in his The Illustration Of Art. Made in Nepal, his Tool And Work (1977) presents two hands: one being his and the other belonging to Kul Bahadur , the artisan who produced the paper with him. Through this work with artisans in Nepal, Dias, like Gormley, act s within the sphere of production to debate financial and economic values, as well as the place of the artist.
On the Field process, Antony Gormley has said that: ‘What we were doing was each finding our own way of making a hand-sized equivalent for the individual body as fast as possible, but at the same time we were contributing to this image of the collective body.’36 Some artists challenge themselves to create desire in the collective body. In the 1970s, Clark defined the collective body as composed of a group of people who experience ‘joint propositions and exchange psychic content among themselves. […] a member of the group vomits his experience when participating in one such proposition, another swallows it and after vomits it, only for it to be directly swallowed by another and so on. This is an exchange of psychic qualities and the word ‘communication’ is weak in this group. [...] In the collective body, the object becomes the subject and it is treated as such by the other members of the group receiving it in times of crisis’.37
In Gormley’s collective sculpture, familiarity and the uncanny live side by side. In Freudian theory, the uncanny (unheimlich) is awoken by a paternal image. The people who volunteered for Domain Field ‘did so for all sorts of reasons’, Gormley tells us, ‘to be immortalised, to overcome their fear, or just because they liked the idea of being part of a work of art’. Freud associated anxiety, the double, repetition and the unconscious with the ‘uncanny’. The unheimlich linked to fear. Through the ambivalence of the title Critical Mass, Gormley explores the senses: mass is physical relation as well as the matter of bread and thought (’critical mass’ could be the capacity for thought within the collective body). For him, the volunteers, with ages ranging from two to eighty-five years old, brought ‘an energy that grew as the piece grew. Just as the work questions the limits of our bodies, so the participants were confronted by, and in many cases overcame, their own boundaries’.
The vast multitude of terracotta figures packed into the space seems to have come out of a figurative frenzy. In other works by Gormley, such as Domain Field, dozens of visually indistinct metal structures cover the space: it seems like dissolution. Gormley faces a question from Heidegger: what possibilities are there today for sculpture to shelter states of being? Quantum Cloud and Domain Field are formally and conceptually close to the graphic diagram of the ‘totemic operator’ in Levi-Strauss’ ‘La Pensée Sauvage’: a geometrical structure, drawn on a plane, receives the inscription of the signified. Here the species and the individual find a relative place.
Far from a metrological breakdown that might be reduced to the positivism of statistics, the groups organised by Gormley’s sculpture have a ‘convivial dimension’,38 even when the apparently excessive proliferation threatens to go beyond the limit. In his work, the attempt to organise a lot is done through rows, by order of size (One Apple) or piled up (Seed IV), or founding fluid mechanics for the look. The antithetical Critical Mass connects the state of abandonment of individuals to the idiosyncrasies of the species: demographic explosion, mass destruction, war, violence and other forms of cruelty. In Missão/Missões (How To Build Cathedrals), Cildo Meireles produces apparently incommensurate excess by making a ‘cathedral’ floor using 600 000 centavo coins. It is the ideological ground of the symbolic war and the economic movement of the Conquest and catechism of colonial America. In Meireles’ work, excess transforms fragility into force, the forbidden into possibility. Excess in Field or Domain Field finds balance between the I and the Other because it constitutes a possibility of individualization - of each Other - through Gormley’s propositions. For him, ‘Art has to deal with human situations; personal, political, and social - within them it can open up a space for reorientation’.39 A feeble ontology, argues Gianni Vattimo in his interpretation of Heidegger, implied even in confronting ‘prophetic illuminations’. For Vattimo, after taking a position regarding the spoils of the history of the winners as defined by Walter Benjamin, the understanding of the excluded and the experience of differences would be the basis of the being’s preparation for an ‘ultrametaphysical’ humanity.40 Many of Gormley’s works are completed by Others and in that, he believes, lies part of its potential as a type of ‘self-generating energy in which people could celebrate their differences. For some it was difficult at first to accept that differences were tolerable, a brick is judged by its conformity to a standard’.41 His sculpture, therefore, could only be a proliferation of the unique. Each part is the complete whole, above all, through being singular and 1 of 150, 35000,25 000, 40 000 or 190 000.
Paulo Herkenhoff, Rio de Janeiro, 2004.
- 1937. Quotations taken from the second edition, London, Faber & Faber, 1971 , p. 113.
- Art And The Scientist. Ibid, p. 119.
- In an email message to the author on March 4, 2004.
- Antony Gormley quoted in Some Of The Facts. Notes for Teachers, Tate St Ives, 2001.
- Op. cit. note 1 supra, p. 106.
- The Genesis of Secrecy’ in Transformation. New Sculpture From Britain, XVII Sao Paulo Biennial, 1983. p. 35.
- Stuart Morgan, Ibid., p. 35.
- As Jean-Joseph Goux argues in Theorie D’ensemble, Paris, Seuil, 1968, p. 188-190.
- La Pensée Sauvage, Paris, Plon, 1962, p. 3.
- See note 3 above.
- Antony Gormley (1995) quoted in Some Of The Facts. Notes for Teachers, Tate St Ives, 2001.
- On this idea , see Robert Storr (Dislocation,. New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1991) and Arthur Danto (’Dislocationary Art in Embodied Meanings’, Critical Essays & Aesthetic Meditation, New York, Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1994, p. 235 and following).
- Antony Gormley (1995) in op. cit., note 4 supra.
- L’oeil Et L’esprit (1961). Paris, Gallimard, 1965.
- L’oeil Et L’esprit (1961). Paris, Gallimard, 1965.
- Lacan. Book 11, The Four Fundamental Concepts Of Psychoanalysis.
- Antony Gormley (1995) quoted in op. cit. note 4 supra.
- ‘Jane Hart interviews Antony Gormley’ in The Journal Of Contemporary Art, 1991.
- Antony Gormley (1995) in op. cit., note 4 supra.
- Caminhando by Clark proposes to any person to make a Moebius strip and to cut it alongside with A pair of scissors. The dimensions of time and space is totally immanent to the phenomenological experience of this topological structure.
- Op. cit., note 4 supra.
- Op. cit., note 19 supra.
- Images, Images... Paris, Jose Corti , 1966, chapter 3.
- Gormley in an interview with Iwona Blaswick, Lewis Biggs, Sandy Nairne, ed., Objects And Sculpture, Institute of Contemporary Art, London, and Arnolfini, Bristol, 1981. Stuart Morgan, op. cit., note 6, p. 36.
- Passages In Modern Sculpture, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 1999, 13th. impression, p. 20.
- In Lecture III, Pierce argues that ‘the Firstness-Category is the idea of that which is independent of something else. In other words, it is a quality of Sensation. The Secondness-Category is the idea of that which is, as second to some first, independent of something else, in particular, independent of the Law, despite having to conform to the Law. That is to say, it is Reaction as an element of Phenomenon. The Thirdness-Category is the Idea of that which is done Thirdly, or the Medium, between a Second and its First. This means that it is Representation as an element of Phenomenon’ (66), Charles Sanders Peirce, Selected Writings.
- Ibid. Lecture IV, 104.
- Ibid. Lecture III, 64, therefore neither the Icon (the qualitatively degenerated) nor the index (the Reactively), as genre relatively genuine (Symbol).
- Ibid. Lecture IV, 105
- The Location Of Culture, London, Routledge, 1994, p.141.
- Apud Artists In Amazonia. Produced by the Television Trust for the Environment (site).
- Antony Gormley, quoted in op. cit., note 4 supra.
- Das Kapital, 1, chapter 1, apud J.-J. Goux, ‘Marx et l’Inscription du travail’, in Théorie D’ensemble, Paris, Seuil, 1968, 196.
- Op. cit., note 8 supra.
- Op. cit., note 19 supra.
- ‘O corpo coletivo’ in Lygia Clark, Fundació Antoni Tápies, Barcelona, 1997, 306.
- Expression coined by Jacques Garelli in ‘L’entrée em Démesure’ in La Démesure, Etienne Tassin (co-ord.), Grenoble, Millon, 1995, p. 100.
- Op. cit., note 19 supra.
- ‘Dialectica, diferencia y pensamiento débil’ in El Pensamiento Débil (1983), Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti (editors), Spanish edition, Cátedra, Madrid, 1990, p 18-42.
- Op. cit., note 19 supra.