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Christopher Ward London


Antony Gormley - Test Sites
Science blurs with art to move your body through space in a very particular way.


Anthony Gormley has become known as a creator of landmarks, the artist behind – or often cast and repeated – in high-profile 3D pieces such as ‘Angel of the North’ and ‘Event Horizon’, where sentinel figures jutted from the city skylines of London, and later New York. Embracing both art and science as he inquires into the connections between architecture, geometry and the body, Gormley’s works are nonetheless brushed off as ‘accessible’ or ‘fairground’ by some. Guess they’ll be among the very few not to be energised by ‘Test Sites’ – the artist’s latest exhibition in London is among his most interactive to date, and takes his career interrogation of our relationship with space and objects to the next level.

It’s ‘Breathing Room III’, in the White Cube’s large lower-basement gallery, that’ll lodge in the mind long enough to beckon you back for more. A giant installation of connected and empty cubic ‘space frames’, first impressions might run from the computer matrix landscape in 80s sci-fi flick ‘Tron’ to a climbing frame for minimalist kids. Glowing a delicate UV blue in the total blackout, you’re enticed to pick a path between the struts, and look out from its empty heart.  Get a friend to snap a picture, and you might appear to be dodging lasers in the bank vault of some movie starring Pitt and Clooney. Inside, your brain has to work a bit harder as it reassesses its connection to your body and the space it takes. Your old reality tries to fight back, placing the experience in the known world – perhaps thinking of a 3D graph, and yourself as an avatar being created in a piece of computer modelling software. But keep panning the angles and tunnels in the frames and it’s clear you’re losing the battle – and your sense of size – with it. Perspective swings around, sometimes you seem smaller, others larger. There’s a sense of floating, jellyfish-like, in the dark – or, as Gormley puts it, “Your body dissolving.”

This shape-shifting quality of ‘Breathing Room III’ is as gentle and meditative an experience as it sounds – until the lights flash on with a clunking, blinding glare. It’s an almost magnesium-white burn that Gormley intends to invade “the dreamy space with something hard and Stasi-like.” If you’ve ever been the last one dancing among a bunch of casualties when the house-lights come on at the end of a club be ready to revisit the horror. You want fellow-gallery goers to get out of your moment. You want to go back into the blue, and it’s ok – you can, in a minute or so.

Gormley is as open and welcoming as the other ninety-per cent of ‘Breathing Room III’ so, as he took us on a tour, I asked, what’s the nasty bright bit about? “There’s no good without bad, no beauty without terror,” he says. “When the lights come up you become an object in your body again, and you’re thrust back into proximity with other people.”

Leading us back up to ground-level Gormley explained that if “Breathing Room III is about space, then upstairs is about mass.” Here a new series of sculptural works in rusted cast-iron reduce the human body to conglomerations of blocks. If downstairs you get lost in a CAD vector map now we see human figures as crudely delineated as those in the first wave of home computer games. The pieces relate to the architectonic language of stacking, propping and cantilever, hinting at the way we allow the modern urban environment to segment our life space, time and bodies – to put stresses on us and insist that, from gym to office, we behave more like machines. But Gormley is acutely aware that given the likelihood of another 6billion years of some kind of life on Earth “we’re insignificant.” And with these sculptures he lets iron – “the metal at the core of the planet, that gives it its magnetic field” – have the last and longest laugh: its natural process of rusting will transform the surface forever.

“I’m anti-shininess,” explains Gormley. “I don’t want something that’s all stainless steel and polished to the point of finished. To me that’s a kind of fascism, and I resist it.” And, if you’re looking to expand and evolve the possibilities of your own journey through time and space, then ‘Test Sites’ is the temporary playground you’d hate to miss. Just try getting your body out of bed early to beat the crowds – ‘Breathing Room III’ is a lot bigger on beauty when empty; especially when the mega-watt lights flare up.        

Antony Gormley – ‘Test Sites’, 4 June-10 July 2010, White Cube Masons Yard, London, SW1Y 6BU.

Image credit: ‘Antony Gormley’ by Konrad Wyrebek and Matthew Miles, 2010. For more images of 'Test Sites' from MilesWyrebek, head over to the Art and Music Magazine Tumblr:

Matthew Miles is a freelance writer, art director and artist. His writes about arts and culture – high to gutter – and photographs and interviews celebrities and real people. He also writes fiction, creates visual digital visual art and shoots fashion with artist Konrad Wyrebek.

Konrad Wyrebek:
Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Konrad is a young, London-based artist working across various mediums – primarily in painting and 3D installation. His work blurs the edges of art and fashion, and he photographs the latter as one half of the team MilesWyrebek.


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