Antony Gormley: Still standing
An Artist Statement
One and Other, the Fourth Plinth project, was about trying to see what happens when you put real life in the frame of representation, which in sculptural terms traditionally has been putting it on a base or a bloody great column. Then it makes sense to continue that experiment and see what happens when you allow the statues of gods and heroes co-mingle with daily life. I think it was very, very important. I initially thought that daily life in the manner of the plinth should go up to the level of the existing plinths, but that was one metre twenty high and I think the Hermitage were very concerned about what the effect would be on the architecture in terms of proportion. But that was not my primary purpose: my primary purpose really was to get co-habitation with marble, humanly-made, gods. In fact the first title of the show was going to be God's Body, which for me had all sorts of resonances about 'whose body is it anyway?' We call our bodies our own, but of course there not: they belong to some other system. We are temporary kind of inhabitants of them, rather like we are temporary inhabitants of this planet. We know more about how things work, but I think we realise we are less and less in control. I was just interested to see what happens when these ancient made things, that in some senses were used to underpin a hierarchical social order, were brought down to the ground.
In bringing the gods down to earth, I think you realise that they are very man made, and they are a fiction. And they're not only a fiction as it were in the time of their making: most of these are Roman copies from the second and third century AD of the Greek originals from second, or third, or even earlier, centuries BC. They have mainly been heavily restored, and they have arms, legs and heads, either added from other antique sculptures or made from scratch by Roman craftsmen, often for English dealers living in Rome. In the eighteenth century in the time of the Great Tour everybody had to come back and fill their houses with a collection of antique classical bodies.
My idea is for you to recognise that this notion of classical perfection is a fiction made up of parts. It was originally a fiction, obviously, that you could materialise a god in Parian marble, but that fiction has been made more complex by what people have done since. I want to play on the sexuality of the classical nude body, because in a sense, with their purified whiteness, the sexual content of antique sculpture is somehow lost. I'm very, very keen to acknowledge it. One is able to get quite close up and physical with these bodies from two thousand years ago. I'm setting up these kind of rather cheeky psycho-sexual dramas with these works, which is completely what I wouldn't do with my work, but I thought I could do it with this work. So Athena is supposed to face you with her power and authority. She's got a helmet on her head, she's fully dressed, she has the symbols of Athens in her hands and five meters away is Eros. She's about one and a quarter times life size and Eros is slightly under life size. And he's gazing up or he's supposed to be gazing up at her. She, of course, if completely disinterested in this love-sick boy.
The two rooms are unified by the fact they both have a new school-lino grey floor. The room with the classical sculptures has been raised up about ten centimetres and the room with my work in it has been raised up by about three centimetres. I think the contrast between the two rooms is pretty obvious. Suddenly you come into my room and you're dealing with physical pixels made of rusty iron clamped together with no names, no history, no mythological or historical content, unlike the classical sculptures, that I think have a certain poise and have an awareness of their duty to be looked at: internal balance, calm, smooth-surfaces, beautifully turned eyelids, lips, toes, fingers. Here is the human body translated into physical pixels, industrially-made, evidently entropic in so far as they are rusting and disintegrating before your eyes. With no name attached they are simply these very crude evocations of a human space in space using a language of blocks. I'm hoping that because of this change of floor level and the voiding of the rooms that you will end up with a public that is somehow re-sensitised to these objects and the space that they are in. It's almost as if voiding the floor, (which had been highly figured marquetry in different coloured marbles and turning it into this mid-grey), suddenly it's as if the architecture as well is questioned. I'm hoping that people will become more self-conscious. By being raised up in the classical room they will be aware of their own bodies in space and then when they come down ten centimetres to my room hopefully they will have a greater awareness of their bodily experience in space at large.
I want to engage with time, but I'm not quite sure I want it to be timeless. I don't want to find, as it were, utopic ideals that will be a goal for a human being wishing to perfect themselves. I'm interested in trying to make the most accurate evocation of what it feels like to be alive now and I want to acknowledge time. So, my wish to expose these works that are to be seen indoors, to the elements is a wish to celebrate the fact that time acts on objects, and that objects are not eternal and that they don't represent timeless values of heroism or beauty. I'm wishing for them to be a reality check. I think that all my work starts from this event. It's a real body in real time that is registered by this process of moulding and is offered as evidence.
I think this group of objects is a kind of forest of questions that you enter into and you won't get much out of it unless you recognise your own implications within it or ask questions about what is human nature? For me, that's the most important reason for doing this show: confronting the way in which statuary and sculpture have been used in history. I think that that's been unbroken really up until the end of nineteenth century. Statuary was seen to be the place of inscription, of ideal and eternal values that was offered in monumental terms to the citizen as a point of reference. I think that we are in a very different time. My work demands a certain form of participation. They are almost empty bodies. They describe a space at large that has a certain configuration that you might recognise maybe to do with anxiety or with alertness. These void spaces are waiting for your feeling, your projection. We don't see Eros' arrow and bow, we don't see the philosophers scroll, we don't see the attributes that allow us to read a historical character or a protagonist and in that sense it's very important to say that these works have escaped from the condition of representation. They are simple diagnostic or reflexive objects that hopefully talk about the true human condition rather than some idealised version of it. It's less to do with aspiration and more to do with diagnosis.
About the Author
Antony Gormley was born in London in 1950. His works have been shown several times in Great Britain, including solo exhibits in the Whitechapel, Tate and Hayward Galleries, and in the British Museum. His art has also been presented in the Museum of Modern Art (Louisiana, Denmark) the Kunsthalle (Malmo, Switzerland) the Kunsthalle (Kiel, Germany); the National Museum of Modern History (Beijing, China) in the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture (Moscow, Russia) and the Kunsthaus (Bregenz, Austria). The artist has moved far beyond the bounds of gallery space, making the public accustomed to active participation in his art with such projects as Clay and the Collective Body (Helsinki) and One and Other on the Fourth Plinth in London. This master's famous sculptures include Angel of the North, (Gateshead, Great Britain) Another Place (Crosby Beach, Great Britain), Habitat (Anchorage, USA) and Exposure (Lelystad, the Netherlands).