In an exploration of our species’ intricate dance with its industrially crafted surroundings, Sir Antony Gormley’s “Body Politic” tackles the urgent intersection of our yearning for refuge and the innate wanderlust ingrained in our migratory essence. As the artist contends, this inquiry is particularly timely, encapsulating a moment when our fundamental need for sanctuary grapples with our inherent impulse to roam.
Central to the exhibition are eight concrete sculptures conceptualised by Gormley as the show’s backbone, tracing a linear path from the courtyard through the gallery’s corridor. Dubbed ‘intimate bunkers for one,’ each iteration of “Retreat” (2022–23) is cast to the scale of the artist’s body in 55 mm thick reinforced concrete. Collectively, these sculptures encapsulate a spectrum of body postures, from balanced to compressed and tensioned, offering visual access to a body-sized void within through small square orifices strategically positioned at the mouth level.
‘The responsibility of the art of our time is to reflect on and provide instruments for examination and self-awareness.’ — ANTONY GORMLEY
Gormley’s assertion that true freedom is found within the infinite darkness of the body, accessible when the body is still, resonates throughout these works, celebrating the profound space we enter when we close our eyes.
Unfolding across South Gallery II, “Resting Place” (2023) presents a dense urban landscape crafted from fired clay blocks, materializing 243 body forms in a labyrinthine terrain. Viewers are invited to navigate this maze of bodies at rest, each posture evoking various situations, from beachside abandonments to the plight of those forcibly displaced by conflicts, climate change, or resource scarcity. In an upcoming essay, Teresa Kittler explores how “Resting Place” speaks to the broader cultural acceptance of the rights of travel juxtaposed with the restrictions placed on migrants by national governments.
In the North Gallery, six ‘Weave Works’ map the volume of the human body, utilizing cast iron bars exposed to the elements. Rusty and freestanding, these sculptures create an illusion of shifting density, bridging the gap between sculptural and architectural space. Three of the works in “Test” (2021–23) defy traditional norms, propping against gallery walls and touching them, engaging visitors with the artwork and the surrounding space.
South Gallery I houses “Bind” (2023), featuring thick ribbons of rolled black steel converging to create a body zone of tangled orthogonal lines. Like “Test,” this work interacts with and is activated by the surrounding architecture, inviting viewers to navigate around this three-dimensional drawing.
The final masterpiece, “Stand” (2023), situated in the 9x9x9 gallery, rises almost five meters tall from a Jenga-like stack of Corten steel beams. Acknowledging the entropy of its construction and the vulnerability of man-made creations, “Stand” celebrates its capacity to evoke hope and fear.
“Body Politic” traverses the delicate balance between sanctuary and control, freedom and discipline, leveraging the intrinsic qualities of sculpture – silence, stillness, and materiality – to heighten visitors’ awareness of their freedom of movement and mind.
To coincide with the exhibition, the forthcoming catalogue “Body Politic,” featuring a text by Teresa Kittler, is scheduled for publication in December 2023.
Antony Gormley’s acclaimed work has graced galleries and museums globally, from Musée Rodin, Paris (2023) to the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019). His iconic public installations, including the Angel of the North and Another Place, undescore his enduring influence. Gormley’s accolades include the Turner Prize 1994 and the Praemium Imperiale in 2013, cementing his status as a leading figure in contemporary sculpture.
Gormley’s extensive exhibition history is complemented by permanent public works, from the Angel of the North (Gateshead, UK) to Chord (MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts). A distinguished artist, Gormley was honoured with the Turner Prize in 1994 and the Praemium Imperiale in 2013, solidifying his impact on the art world.
Antony Gormley – Body Politic 22 November 2023 – 28 January 2024 White Cube Bermondsey