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Artist Research – Anthony Gormley’s ‘Fit’

October 29, 2016 in review

Anthony Gormley’s ‘Fit’ @ The White Cube

I know it’s sacrilegious to say, but I haven’t really taken the time to go to many London galleries since I’ve lived in London. I’ve tried, but i’ve always seemed a bit too busy, or perhaps I was just a bit too lazy. One of the many  galleries I had never been to, happened to be the white cube in south London. I was struck by its location, hidden within a warren of housing estates, nestled behind a series of winding back streets which appear to only be populated by garages and long-forgotten pubs. It’s a striking building, obviously inspired the architecture of the brutalist and Bauhaus movements, but the building can most obviously be attributed to modernist architecture. To enter the gallery, you have to first have to cross an expansive brick courtyard to get to a large glass door. The door is probably 6-7 metres high and 3 metres wide. Like most galleries, the White Cube intimidates you into a state where you feel ready to accept an artistic and cultural education. The door also sets up the aesthetic of the whole experience. The main passage through the gallery mimicking the entrance is long and wide, with openings to the left and right every so often, leading you to gallery spaces or the obligatory gallery shop. The White Cube is reminiscent of something from a science fiction film or the J.G.Ballard novel, ‘High Rise’. I felt as if I were gliding through the space to the end of the hall where the Gormley exhibit began. You are greeted by a gallery assistant brandishing a map of the exhibit and a health and safety form alongside a small passageway large enough for just one person. The setup of the exhibition is something quite unique from any other exhibition I have been to. Each piece was given its own room in which to inhabit, and make no question about it the works lived in the room they were given. It is hard to explain in words, but the sight of a gargantuan block of concrete or steel waiting for the viewer in a space (a space which gives very little room for the viewer to navigate) forces you to observe the power of Gormley’s work. The rooms form a labyrinth which the viewer has to navigate purely by the visual power each piece has, dragging you from room to room. The layout of the exhibition is similar to the structure of one of the pieces in the exhibition, ‘Run’ (2016). A seemingly whole structure, that appears to have no beginning or end. It invites you to move around it and appears to want you to pass through it. ‘Run’ is a labyrinth that doubles back on itself, moving all directions and confusing the eye. This is what the layout of Fit is, a labyrinth of structures, each more thought-provoking and visually arresting than the last.

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Fit shows a collection of new works made since 2015. Gormley’s work examines how the human body is represented within art and how people view the human body across the world. Gormley uses his own body as the inspiration and focus of his work. In my opinion he is first and foremost interested in how his own body can apply to all people. He abstracts his body to the point where you know that what you’re looking at is based on the human body but you’re not sure how.

Gormley primarily works with concrete or metal. I believe that even this is carries a meaning. Creating works that represent the human form, a frail and fragile thing, out of such solid materials is sending a clear message about human mortality and the idea that if you create someone, in this case a self-portrait, in such robust materials you basically immortalise a person. The image may tarnish, rust or become discoloured, but it will defend itself against the effects of time and nature. One of the most impressive and immersive works is Sleeping field (room VI). Sleeping Field (2015-16) is an installation made up of over 500 small iron sculptures. At first glance Sleeping field appears to be a depiction of the world from Ballard’s ‘High Rise’; a look into a dystopian future full of looming, grey high rise buildings. If you look closer you realise that Gormley has created over 500 human bodies in different positions, crammed in together in close proximity to each other and the room. Like other works by Gormley, he uses the human form and abstracts it to a point where you understand the notions that are tied up within our cultural idea of what a body is such as physical frailty, emotional weakness, male chauvinism, etc. By abstracting the human form to a series of iron cubes, Gormley  makes the work universal, allowing people to project their own ideas about body image and a person place in the world onto the work.

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The other piece that I feel is worth mention is ‘Passage’ (2016). ‘Passage’ is a 12 metre-long tunnel which has been created in image of the human form. It allows you to descend into the darkness that is created due to the length of the tunnel. It is a metaphor for the act of self-discovery that all people would take. At the end of the tunnel is a light outline of a human form, this outline is not so bright as to blind you, it is subtle. Upon reflection it is about exactly that, reflection. The act of self-discovery requires a certain amount of reflection, reflection on who you are as a person and the actions you take. The discovery that one makes after a journey of discovery (possibly a 12 metre journey) is never striking, as Gormley shows us, it is probably quite subtle.

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Gormley’s exhibition, ‘Fit’, is a great show of where the artists work has come from and shows us that he is still able to make the audience question their role in the world and the impact the body has upon it.

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