Week 1 : Being Human
"No No No"
Bruce Nauman, 1987
"Bruce Nauman’s No, No, New Museum forms part of a series of four videos called Clown Torture. In it, the American actor Walter Stevens performs absurd scenarios dressed as a clown. The video elicits unease and disturbs the viewer despite including nothing shocking. Nauman works with very simple elements, but combined and repeated infinitely they become worrying. The clown, associated with the circus and parties but also horror films such as ‘It, repeats countless times the word ‘no’, which we use repeatedly each day. This monotonous complaint ‘no, no, no’ fixes itself in our minds like a torture. The video plays on a loop, so restarts automatically when it ends, giving the impression that this act continues eternally."
"What Will Become of Me?"
Adrian Piper, 1985
"What Will Become of Me? is a work in progress that will be completed upon the artist’s death. Since 1985, Piper has filled honey jars with her hair and fingernails whenever she cuts them. The last container to be added will hold her cremated remains. The jars are displayed on a shelf flanked by two documents: One is a personal account of the artist’s experiences in 1985 when she started the project, and the other is a notarized statement in which Piper declares her intention to donate this work to The Museum of Modern Art. As both an African American and a woman—two groups that have traditionally been marginalized in the history of art—she is literally inserting herself into the Museum’s collection."
MOMA, https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/adrian-piper-what-will-become-of-me-1985-ongoing/, sourced 4th of November.
Yoko Ono, 1964
"In Cut Piece—one of Yoko Ono’s early performance works—the artist sat alone on a stage, dressed in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience had been instructed that they could take turns approaching her and use the scissors to cut off a small piece of her clothing, which was theirs to keep. Some people approached hesitantly, cutting a small square of fabric from her sleeve or the hem of her skirt. Others came boldly, snipping away the front of her blouse or the straps of her bra. Ono remained motionless and expressionless throughout, until, at her discretion, the performance ended." (https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/yoko-ono-cut-piece-1964/)
When I watch "Cut Piece", I think about both fragility and power. It strikes me how loose these terms actually are, and how easy it is to loose control by telling people that they can do whatever they want.
At the same time, I think this piece manifests female power, since Ono by herself makes the decision to allow people to cut her clothes of. Further on, it is brave to agree to this, and I think braveness symbolizes power in itself.
Something else that I think is notable, is that to me, it feels different when a man and a woman cuts her clothes of. The artist seems more vulnerable when it is a male that holds the scissors, and I get the feeling that she is made fun of, than when it is a woman that cuts.
Semiotics of the Kitchen
"In this performance Rosler takes on the role of an apron-clad housewife and parodies the television cooking demonstrations popularized by Julia Child in the 1960s. Standing in a kitchen, surrounded by refrigerator, table, and stove, she moves through the alphabet from A to Z, assigning a letter to the various tools found in this domestic space. Wielding knives, a nutcracker, and a rolling pin, she warms to her task, her gestures sharply punctuating the rage and frustration of oppressive women's roles. Rosler has said of this work, "I was concerned with something like the notion of 'language speaking the subject,' and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity.""
Sourced from: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/88937
"In 1924, with the West on the mend after World War I, French poet André Breton unleashed a manifesto of a brand-new revolution: the artistic, intellectual, and literary movement known as Surrealism. From this point, until the end of World War II, the artists, writers, and intellectuals who joined Breton sought to creatively undermine what they viewed as postwar society’s excessive rationality and oppressive order. They accomplished this by producing work generated not out of the conscious—that cerebral, rule-bound part of the mind—but by tapping into the unconscious, its desiring, dreaming, irrational portion. “Beloved imagination,” Breton wrote in his manifesto, “what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.”1
Women were largely regarded as the subjects and muses of the men who dominated Surrealism, among them Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and René Magritte. So, it is notable that painter and sculptor Meret Oppenheim (German-Swiss, 1913–1985) made a place for herself as one of Surrealism’s central artists and produced some of its most powerful works. In 1932, she moved to Paris, the center of the movement, and was soon participating actively in their meetings and exhibitions. By 1936, she had her first solo exhibition. Assuming she, like her artistic peers, must be male, critics and admirers of her work often mistakenly referred to her as “Mr. Oppenheim.”
The artist possessed a wry wit and was keenly aware of how women were regarded by both the Surrealists and society. Suffused with humor, eroticism, and menacing darkness, her work reflected her critical explorations of female sexuality, identity, and exploitation. Oppenheim became known for her assemblages, sculptural works in which she brought everyday, often domestic, items into disturbing and humorous juxtaposition. For the Surrealists, such objects served to crack the veneer of civilized society, revealing the sexual, psychological, and emotional drives burning just beneath the surface.
A Sensational Teacup: Meret Oppenheim’s Object (1936)
It began with a joke over lunch. In 1936, Meret Oppenheim was at a Paris café with Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso, who noticed the fur-lined, polished metal bracelet she was wearing and joked that anything could be covered with fur. “Even this cup and saucer,” Oppenheim replied and, carrying the merriment further, called out, “Waiter, a little more fur!”2 Her devilish imagination duly sparked, the artist went to a department store not long after this meal, bought a white teacup, saucer, and spoon, wrapped them in the speckled tan fur of a Chinese gazelle, and titled this ensemble Object. In doing so, she transformed items traditionally associated with decorum and feminine refinement into a confounding Surrealist sculpture. Object exemplifies the poet and founder of Surrealism André Breton’s argument that mundane things presented in unexpected ways had the power to challenge reason, to urge the inhibited and uninitiated (that is, the rest of society) to connect to their subconscious—whether they were ready for it or, more likely, not.
While Oppenheim was not the only artist bringing everyday things into unlikely alliance in the 1930s, her fur-covered teacup is considered to be among the quintessential Surrealist objects. It caused a sensation when it was introduced to the public in 1936, first in Paris, at the inaugural exhibition of Surrealist objects organized by Breton, and then in New York, at The Museum of Modern Art’s show Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism. “The fur-lined-cup school of art,” ran a headline of the day, capturing the mixture of bemusement, offense, shock, and fascination Object provoked.3 Though many viewers could not comprehend how or why it constituted a work of art, by 1946, The Museum of Modern Art acquired the work.
“Art […] has to do with spirit, not with decoration,”4 Oppenheim once wrote, and a work as small and economical as Object has such outsized spirit because fur combined with a teacup evokes such a surprising mix of messages and associations. The fur may remind viewers of wild animals and nature, while the teacup could suggest manners and civilization. With its pelt, the teacup becomes soft, rounded, and highly tactile. It seems attractive to the touch, if not, on the other hand, to the taste: Imagine drinking from it, and the physical sensation of wet fur filling the mouth."
Horizon - "Hair Care Secrets" (See down below)
The Horizon episode "Hair Care Secrets" gave me the realization that hair fills a more significant role in our society than I first thought. In according to this program, "the time and effort that we put into our hair, creates a global haircare market worth the staggering 60 billion pounds. An estimated 1.5 billion of that is spent on hair loss treatment." Further on, the interviewed people all agrees with that hair effects their self confidence. A scientist from the program notes that it only takes about 13 milliseconds for us to decide wether we think a face is attractive or not, and that our hair effects how old other people think we are. Yet, they make it clear that this material that we put so much value in, actually only is dead protein.
Pictures of fake hair taken in a cosmetics store in Dalston, 4th of November, 2019
These are all products that are a part of the 60 billion pounds industry that circles around hair. It fascinates me that humans spend so much money and time on dead protein. In the episode from Horizon, a man was so bothered by how his hair was looking, that he was going to make a hair transplantation to change it, in order to feel better about himself. As so many other things in our society, this obsession of ours makes no sense.
Horizon: "Hair Care Secrets"
Being Human: Heather Dewey-Hagborg - "I steal DNA from strangers"
The Sculptural Condition: Part 2 : The Language of Objects
"The Social Life of Things"
Cambridge University Press, Arjun Appadurai, 1986
Karl Marx "The Fetishism of Commodities"
To figure out the best method to create a self portrait sculpture, I've researched how other artists work to create their sculptural pieces.
Transformer: A Rebirth of Wonder at 180 The Strand
"Themes such as ritual, identity, magic, and political reality connect the artworks, which consider social transformation and the role of the individual in relation to our collective future.
Evan Ifekoya explores the meeting point of technology and wellness, conjuring a futuristic centre complete with padded white walls and a metal-framed meditation pod where visitors can relax, recharge and reconnect with their inner self.
"Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3"
"Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3" is the epilogue to a series of works created during the past four years, about the making of a painter. In the present world, where reality and fiction merge together to form diverse paradigms, Korakrit Arunanondchai develops his character: a Thai denim painter. His autobiography, his constructed image as an artist, the social realities of present-day Thailand, and the phenomenon of globalization are mixed together in the exhibition to form what the artist calls “a memory palace.”
The installation is made in two parts. “The Body” is composed of a large denim body painting, only visible in its entirety from a bird’s eye view. It functions as a landscape and a stage for the audience. “The Spirit” presents a video, in the artist converses with Chantri - the invisible main character of the trilogy and the incarnation of the audience and Korakrit Arunanondchai’s consciousness, voiced by Chutatip Arunanondchai.
Korakrit Arunanondchai looks to the Buddhist and Animist framework of Thailand, as well as to popular culture, geopolitics and technology, to question what it means to be an artist today, while celebrating connectivity, the merging of art and life, of fantasy and reality, of science and incorporeality.
“Chantri, I think I finish my final painting, will you come to see it?”
"Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3", (2015)
Performance at MoMa
"Untitled (History painting)"
Room : week 1
"There are a lot of resources given by nature for free -- all we need is our sensitivity to see them and our creativity to use them," says architect Anna Heringer. Heringer uses low-tech materials like mud and bamboo to create structures from China to Switzerland, Bangladesh and beyond. Visit an awe-inspiring school, an elegant office and cozy social spaces -- all built from natural materials -- in this delightful talk.
Load-bearing earth walls that really ground the school, and large bamboo structures that bring the lightness in. That's the classroom on the ground floor. Attached to it are the caves. They're for reading, for snuggling, for solo work, for meditation, for playing ... and the classroom on the top.
Especially mud has a very poor image. When we think of mud, we think of dirt -- it's ugly, it's nondurable -- and this is the image I want to change. In fact, it's the 11th rainy season for this school now, really harsh, horizontal monsoon rains, and the walls are standing strong.
So how does it work? First rule, a good foundation that keeps the wall dry from the ground, and second rule, a good roof that protects from the top, and third rule, erosion control. Mud walls need speed breakers so that the rainwater cannot run down the wall fast, and these speed breakers could be lines of bamboo or stones or straw mixed into the mud, just like a hill needs trees or rocks in order to prevent erosion. It works just the same way. And people always ask me if I have to add cement to the mud, and the answer is no. There is no stabilizer, no coating on these walls, only in the foundation.
Yeah, and the great thing is, if an earth wall is not needed anymore, it can go back to the ground it came from, turn into a garden, or get fully recycled without any loss of quality. There's no other material that can do this, and this is why mud is so excellent in terms of environmental performance.
What about the economic sustainability? When we built the school, I practically lived on the construction site, and in the evening, I used to go with the workers to the market, and I could see how they spent their money. And they would buy the vegetables from their neighbors, they would get a new haircut or a new blouse from the tailor. And because the main part of the building budget was spent on craftsmanship, the school wasn't just a building, it became a real catalyst for local development, and that made me happy. If I had designed the school in cement and steel, this money would have been exported and lost for those families.
The building budget at that time was 35,000 euros -- it's probably doubled by now -- and this is a lot of money for that region, and especially because this money is working within the community and rotating fast, and not on the stock market. So when it comes to the economic sustainability of my project, my main question is, who gets the profit?
It seems totally out of our focus, but approximately three billion people all around the planet are living in earth houses, and it is a traditional building material in Europe just as much as in Africa.
in fact, in more and more countries, load-bearing earthen structures are not allowed to be built anymore although they're traditional and have lasted for hundreds of years, and not because the material is weak, but because there are no architects and engineers who know how to deal with that material. So education on all levels, for craftsmen, engineers and architects, is really strongly needed.
What happens when you place the same item or piece in a different venue?
Primary Research: Dome in Clissold Park
Wynton Guest House Minnesota
John Pawson : Home Farm
"Over the course of more than thirty years, a body of work has accumulated based on the objective of making simple spaces, with just what is required and nothing more, where the eye feels as comfortable as the body. At the heart of everything has been the idea of refining by removing, meticulously paring away until what is left cannot be improved by further reduction: sensual space, where the primary experience is of the quality of light, materials and proportions. During these three decades, every project has represented a manifesto of the thinking, but nowhere is this truer than at Home Farm in Oxfordshire, where architect and client are one."
Powers of Ten
The film "Powers of Ten" (see down below), awakens thoughts about that in the end, it is all about physics, biology and other sciences. Everything cultural, anthropological, it's only a human construction, it has all been made up.
I call myself a woman, Swedish, happy, and lots of other things. Actually I am nothing else than DNA, molecules and particles, all existing on a planet situated in a solar system that only makes up a minimal part of the entire space that we call the universe.
For some reason, despite this knowledge, I still care about all of these human constructions.
Room: "Powers of Ten"
At Home or on the Move
Robert Venturi, Complexity and contradiction in architecture
Being Human at the Wellcome Museum
The Sculptural Condition : Part 1 : Sculpture as Performance
"Into This" (2010)
performance, 1 hour
chocolate cake, red frilly thong.
"I enter the room wearing a red frilly thong. Posistioning myself on all fours I plunge my head into a large chocolate cake. I remain like this for an hour. After this time I pull my face from the cake, get up and leave."
"Für Zwei", "Kope zu Kopf über Kopf", 1967
Franz Erhard Walther: "This idea of having a frame started with the outline drawings. First on paper, then with these material processes, the air enclosures. Then it entered real space. The original idea was to have a frame with nothing in it. It asked the spectator to project his or her idea, image, object, whatever. So, a projection field. Through the decades, it’s a main theme for me, working with a frame, and the idea of projection, filling the frame by imagination. Your magnum opus, where it all seems to come together, all these years of experimentation, is the Werksatz, or First Work Set (1963–69). It’s actually 58 different works. That’s what you showed at MoMA. I had to make definitions of what I thought in relation to history. How do you make something real? How do you make it concrete? If it just exists in time, there ’s a start and an end. Many serious people told me, “These are not matters for the so-called fine arts. It’s a matter of theater or music to try to activate real time. In art, you must transform it into allegory, illustration, symbolism.” I persisted in thinking that it was also possible to do this in the fine arts, in sculpture. But how to show experience to people? I decided: through a large corpus of so-called Work Drawings. I tried to formulate all these experiences, ideas, projections."
”Något om vår samtid” (2019)
"The sculptures are portraits of people that I've seen or meet, sometimes several persons in one piece, perhaps one in Malmö, in Hongkong, in Sunne, Torsby, Pixbo, Borås, in the outskirts of Norrköping close to Mem, in Lund or in Maastricht. Who knows, all these people who we live next to, we know some of them, some of them we don't, we share what is called the contemporary. They are portraits of people that are close to me that are made of things that they have around them, mostly pieces of wood. The sculptures shows how I experience that these people experience their surroundings, what they show me."
Cajsa Von Zeipel
"Von Zeipel uses her own body in her art by primarily creating self portraits in form of sculptures.
Mirrors have been there next to my sculptures to enhance certain feelings from the beginning; it’s also because my work began to develop entirely after a lecture on narcissism, and I wanted to bring the mirror as a reference to the starting point of where my work took off from. This was during my exchange year at Stäedelschule [in Frankfurt, Germany] and I took these ideas and tried for a long period to abstain myself from eating. I wanted to practice the relations that I thought to have found between narcissism and the pro-anorexic culture and see where it would take me. It was very costly for my well-being. It was only after I finished this that I took my experience and translated it to working with sculpture."
"Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", and The Male Gaze
"The psychoanalytic background that has been discussed in this article is relevant to the pleasure and unpleasure offered by traditional narrative film. The scopophilic instinct (pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object), and, in contradistinction, ego libido (forming identification processes) act as formations, mechanisms, which this cinema has played on. The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favourite cinematic form - illusionistic narrative film. The argument returns again to the psychoanalytic background in that woman as representation signifies castration, inducing voyeuristic or fetishistic mechanisms to circumvent her threat. None of these interacting layers is intrinsic to film, but it is only in the film form that they can reach a perfect and beautiful contradiction, thanks to the possibility in the cinema of shifting the emhpasis of the look. It is the place of the look that defines cinema, the possibility of varying it and exposing it. This is what makes cinema quite different in its voyeuristic potential from, say, striptease, theatre, shows, etc. Going far beyond highlighting a woman's to-be-looked-at-ness, cinema builds the way she is to be looked at into, the spectacle itself. Playing on the tension between film as controlling the dimension of time (editing, narrative) and film as controlling the dimension of space (changes in distance, editing), cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire. It is these cinematic codes and their relationship to formative external structures that must be broken down before mainstream film and the pleasure it provides can be challenged.
To begin with (as an ending), the voyeuristic-scopophilic look that is a crucial part of traditional filmic pleasure can itself be broken down. There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion. The conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third, the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience. Without these two absences (the material existence of the recording process, the critical reacting of the spectator), fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness and truth. Nevertheless, as this article has argued, the structure of looking in narrative fiction film contains a contradiction in its own premises: the female image as a castration threat constantly endangers the unity of the diegesis and bursts through the world of illusion as an intrusive, static, one-dimensional fetish. Thus the two looks materially present in time and space are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego. The camera becomes the mechanism for producing an illusion of Renaissance space, flowing movements compatible with the human eye, an ideology of representation that revolves around the perception of the subject; the camera's look is disavowed in order to create a convincing world in which the spectator's surrogate can perform with verisimilitude. Simultaneously, the look of the audience is denied, an intrinsic force: as soon as fetishistic representation of the female image threatens to break the spell of illusion, and the erotic image on the screen appears directly (without mediation) to the spectator, the fact of fetishisation, concealing as it does castration fear, freezes the look, fixates the spectator and prevents him from achieving, any distance from the image in front of him.
This complex interaction of looks is specific to film. The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions (already undertaken by radical film-makers) is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics, passionate detachment. There is no doubt that this destroys the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege of the 'invisible guest', and highlights how film has depended on voyeuristic active/passive mechanisms. Women, whose image has continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret."
The Sculptural Condition : Part 3 : The Elimination of recognizable form
"If you can describe to someone how a sculpture looks, and they can understand and visualize it exactly, it's probably not an interesting piece"
Formlessness : Moodle
"(monstrance and volute)"
"Pollen from Hazelnut"
Anthony Gormley : Royal Academy of Art
“I see this show as a really important test ground. What can sculpture do?
Can it change the way that you engage with art,
but in the process can it change the way that you engage with the world?
What is the point of doing an exhibition?
I think one of them, is yes, to show some stuff that you've made.
But actually that's the lest important.
Maybe the most important is to ask that question,
what can art do for us?"
Interview with Anthony Gormley:
The days are beginning to lengthen and as the sun sets we admire the cityscape. Gormley checks in on his sculpture Cinch (2017), a stainless-steel-faceted body-form perched above the north entrance to Burlington Arcade, keeping a silent vigil over the daily routines of the street below. Conversation shifts between the practical and the philosophical, which, in the making of Gormley’s art, are inextricable. This is one in a long series of site visits to the RA. Over the past three years, work has been taking place to reinforce the galleries’ floors and walls in anticipation of his large-scale sculptures and installations; every possibility has been probed, testing the building’s capabilities, as if the Main Galleries were one huge armature for a sculptural experiment. Gormley has compared the challenges of any particular site to the resistance of marble for the sculptor who carves.
“We’re trying to use the entire volume of the Royal Academy in a way that really makes the viewer’s journey through it intriguing,” the artist explains. “Every room is a surprise in relation to the room before, but together they make a collective experience.” The sequence of encounters with works both past and present is not a chronological retrospective, explains the exhibition’s co-curator Martin Caiger-Smith, author of the definitive monograph on the artist (published by Rizzoli in 2017) and a crucial figure in the shaping of the show: “Perhaps more than any exhibition to date, this Royal Academy show binds together Gormley’s most recent work and his earliest, emphasising the common and continuing concerns that have preoccupied him from the outset – with who we are, as bodies moving through space and time, with how we experience the elemental, natural world and how we relate to the man-made environment we have constructed around us.”
The artist sums up these concerns in one question: “How do we treat the body not as a given, not as appearance, but as the place that we each find ourselves in?” To answer it, Gormley is staging an exhibition with different aims to a typical Royal Academy show. “Many RA exhibitions tell a story – of a life, of a style, of an artistic movement. I think the work in this show is fundamentally different from that kind of picture show, which is what the Academy was built to do. If there is a story in this exhibition, it’s the one you bring with you as a visitor. We start the exhibition with a tiny object in the Annenberg Courtyard, which hopefully opens people up to the idea that they make, or are, the story.” This tiny object is Iron Baby (1999; pictured above), a solid iron cast based on the artist’s six-day-old daughter. The features are not detailed; we can’t tell if it’s a boy or girl. It is not a portrait. It is the space a body once occupied, a moment of lived time, embodied.
The sculpture consists of 21 huge cages, suspended from the ceiling, that enclose a void the average size of a European new-build bedroom. “It’s about the way we contain space through architecture… the ghost of modernity, hanging there. We have to live in higher and higher densities and I’m asking: what does that mean for our collective identity?" Matrix III is the most complex piece that has ever been fabricated entirely ‘in-house’ at Gormley’s studio. And even then, extensive consultation with specialist structural engineers has been required to find a solution for gradually building the work in sections, accurately and safely.
This non-figurative sculpture (for want of a better description, as it is too physical, too material, to be ‘abstract’) might be unexpected for those most familiar with Gormley’s body-forms of the 1980s and ’90s, for which he won the Turner Prize in 1994, or his colossal Angel of the North (1998), arguably the country’s most famous piece of public art. Yet it has arrived quite naturally in the progression of his practice. In Matrix III, no body is present in the sculpture, but, as the artist explains, "in most of the work for the Academy show, the subject is the viewer’s body. I make a situation that the viewer is invited to bring themselves into – mind and body."
This emphasis on embodied experience is there in Gormley’s earliest works, and is his unifying concern. Before training at Central St Martin’s, Goldsmiths and the Slade art schools, Gormley studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at Cambridge. He also travelled widely in the Middle East and Asia, spending two years learning Buddhist Vipassana meditation in India, sometimes sitting still for 12 hours a day. Practising this state of “bare attention” left Gormley with an indelible belief that we have innate knowledge in our bodies, and that being aware of our presence and our surroundings is as important as anything one might learn from a book . “At this point I was very much aware of how much art was about art, and how myopic the frame of reference was,” recalls the artist. “I wanted to make work that somehow dealt with the immediate. That meant the materiality of the world and being in it, and wanting to make art about experience and that encouraged a certain form of experience.”
The everyday objects Gormley gravitated towards in these early experiments reveal the impulse, as strong today as it was then, to connect art and life, especially the relationship between sculpture and the natural world. For example, One Apple (1982): set out in a line that bisects the gallery, 53 pieces wrapped in lead record the stages of the season’s growth, from the first fallen petal of the blossom, to the gradual appearance and ripening of the fruit. Lead is a major feature in this room, a material Gormley chose partly in response to the context of the Cold War (the material can insulate against radiation) but largely because of its malleability. The process of wrapping objects was instrumental in Gormley’s exploration of what he describes as “spatiality and how we perceive it: a testing of the edges, the skin of things.”
For Gormley personally, the most important work in this gallery is also “the quietest and the least spectacular”: Land, Sea and Air I (1977-79; below). The making of the work – three more or less identical lead cases, one containing a rock, another water and the last left empty – was a breakthrough moment. “I can remember being on a beach, on the coast of Galway, surrounded by these granite shore stones. I made my choice of stone, and during my journey back with my brother – between leaving Goldsmiths and arriving at the Slade – the stone just sat there, in the back of his Citroën 2CV, almost as a sort of goad, saying, ‘What are you going to do with me?’. I knew that I didn’t want to take the lump of rock and carve it into a beautiful object, but I wanted to honour its shape.”
“In the end, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll acknowledge you’. I made a lead skin and I covered it up, and then, a while later, I thought, ‘No, I’ll unwrap it’. When I cut it out, that was a total revelation to me: the space that the stone had occupied – its absence – declared the fact that it had been present. I realised that the lead box can be a carrier: it does this job of transformation, turning material into mind, or the thing into an imaginary image. That work was really my kind of talisman of what art can do; it can reconcile imagination with reality. It can take a bit of the real world and in isolating it, may give it meaning or potency."
Gormley was not alone in seeking ways to make sculpture that was closer to life than art. In post-war Italy the artists of the Arte Povera movement were known for their use of “poor materials”. British artist Richard Long RA employed walking as a sculptural medium that engaged with time and space, recording his modest interventions in the landscape in photographs, such as A Line Made by Walking (1967), which shows a strip of flattened turf, a shape imprinted in a daisy-covered field by the repeated action of his boots. While still a student, Gormley made comparable performative works, such as Exercise with Mud (Arizona) II (1979), made in Arizona’s Death Valley by collecting pieces of sun-baked earth and throwing them behind him, leaving a 10m trail of dust. Together with Vicken Parsons, a fellow artist from the Slade (the pair married in 1980 and have three children), Gormley had travelled to the US in search of the great works of American Land Art. These included Spiral Jetty (1970), Robert Smithson’s counterclockwise coil of 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks and earth in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field (1977), 400 vertical steel poles spread in a grid across a huge area of desert in New Mexico. De Maria’s work draws its power from the place with minimal means. Catching the dawn or twilight, it offers a quiet measure to the surrounding mountain ranges, and if lightning strikes, harnesses the full force of the weather. Gormley’s experience of Lightning Field, and his contact with De Maria, were a formative rite of passage.
At a time when Minimalism posited sculpture as an abstract idiom, Gormley began to use his own body as a tool and medium, moulding himself in plaster, and encasing those forms in lead. Land, Sea and Air II (1982; below) was one of a series of three-part ‘body case’ works that, as the artist has summarised, "attempted to associate a perception with a posture, and a posture with an element.“ Land listens to the ground, Sea stands still, and Air kneels, head lifted to the sky; the three cases are punctured only by holes at the ears, nose and eyes respectively. Each lead carapace is marked with lines of solder in a grid system that from then on persisted throughout Gormley’s early lead body-forms.
Sea Sand and Air II (1982)
Lead and fibreglass
Another work made especially for the exhibition expands the interior of the body into a space we can inhabit. Gormley has described Cave (2019), as “my form of architecture”; he has always thought of the built environment as our “second body”, an integral part of the human condition today. Made from industrial rolled steel, rectangular and cuboid forms intersect at chaotic angles: this stack of boxes crashed into each other is in fact a giant body, crouched to fit in one of the corner galleries. A hand and a foot stick out through the doorways, as the entrance and exit of the dark, cavernous interior. For Gormley, it is when we close our eyes – “an experience of interiorised darkness, which is no different to the darkness of the night sky” – that we most readily feel our body as a place. “I have a profound belief that this internalised sense of space is in absolute connection with the extension of cosmic space. We have an intuition embedded without our biology about space at large. The paradox is that we live within a body that has a skin that is our bounding condition, yet we have this faculty of imaginative extension into endless space."
Ancient cave art has been an enduring preoccupation for the artist. "The cave is an environment in which you have to become hyper-aware, and it has such strong bodily references – these wet, taut, limescale walls. The act of our ancestors going deep into the body of the earth allowed the imaginative and the internal to find its natural place within the darkness.” Initially encountered as a looming presence at the end of the gallery enfilade, visitors will choose whether to go inside Cave or to walk around the perimeter, which also requires a negotiation of unpredictable angular structures. Some facets are left open, connecting the interior and exterior. “By borrowed light, by variations in volume, by acoustic conditions, a space can begin to behave a little like music.”
Gormley’s belief that we are fundamentally connected with the world around and each other – as specks of matter like the rest of the universe – is central to his work and this exhibition. The culminating work is Host, which has never been seen in the UK before. First made in 1991, the work bears comparison with American Field of 1990, which consisted of around 35,000 fired clay bodies that had been quickly formed to the scale of a pair of human hands, in collaboration with a community of brickmakers in San Matías, Mexico (the work became a global phenomenon, with Amazonian, British, European and Asian Fields created). Like Field, Host is viewed from outside through a single threshold and fills the gallery wall to wall, but in Host the clay is left in its raw state, unworked, mixed with sea water (see Host, 2016, above). In the RA exhibition, the work sits in contrast to Matrix, a structure that evokes the built environment. Gormley describes Host as "the elemental condition of human consciousness: we have air, water and earth, but no form. It is formless, given temporary form by the architecture.“ In both works we are "left outside, as an observer”, our minds left to contemplate.
This exhibition is indicative of a shift in Gormley’s practice away from representation towards open-ended environments that inspire self-reflection and challenge the status quo. “Art becomes this proposition that invites you to rethink what the world is, and your position in it,” Gormley concludes. “In the end, the raw material of this exhibition is the psyche, the bodies, the people who come and indeed the feeling that they make together. That is not something that can be moulded or carved or cast, and that’s what makes the whole thing worth doing, because I want to move people. Can we care? Can we look at things anew?”
Primary research / personal pictures:
Other spaces at 180 the Strand
"Featuring newly composed music by Mira Calix, Our Time is a site-specific evolution of the UVA’s 2013 commission for the Barbican called Momentum. The installation features kinetic structures swinging in and out of phase, while light and sound is projected throughout."
, Makiko Wakisaka - "life" 2002 material : leaf vein, nylon thread, polyester thread, water soluble cloth technique : machine stitch & hand stitch