Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Friday, May 18, 2007

Capsule: Antony Gormley

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The brilliance of the white that you see as you enter The Hayward for the Antony Gormley retrospective is not just dazzling. It is ominous.

The title piece of the exhibition, 'Blind Light', throbs in front of you, with only the glass preventing the white substance from flooding out towards you. As you round the corner to the entrance, you see the steam licking out from the doorway-sized gap. You feel the dread that accompanies the hero’s pigeon steps towards a monster’s lair.

You take a deep breath and then shiver as you enter. You feel the water vapour going up your nose, and you slow to a simple step by step pace, your hands going in front of you, your glasses misting up. You stop. The person in front carries on. They disappear in one pace.

It’s lonely and scary inside, but comforting too, as you hear voices you semi-recognise float through the cloud. Hand pressed on glass, you feel your way round for whence you came, and you emerge, trailing water and dampness around with you. And as you move around the outside, you recognise the sense of community that this box is creating. We wave at people on the inside, as they loom out at us from the fog, before they hit the glass. It’s a gloaming that grins.

That sense of lightness and joy from the bleak runs throughout this exhibition. You see it in the unexpected juxtaposition of bulk and precision that is ‘Space Station’, so immense and dark that you almost miss it on your way in. It’s an interstellar craft with a Lego brick finish and the weight of a feather, balancing elegantly on three or four corners.

You also feel it in the ‘Matrices and Explosions’ room upstairs. Both solid and fragile at the same time, the forms remind us that we are made up of our webs and connexions to others, however brittle they may be. They are the nests and cradles in which we are nurtured. They shape us, define us. Are us.

And where, as in ‘Drawn’, to be human means to be nervous, multifaceted, splayed, you can also find the transcendence of being taken into your body to be taken out of your body, so that you can inhabit a watchful serenity. ‘Allotment’ is precisely that, a meditation of what it means to be three-dimensional, and in relation to others. You walk through a field of sarcophagi, through clusters of friends, families, enemies. In death, in concrete, apparently, such labels do not matter. People stare into the voids of these personal tombs, and measure themselves against them – which one will I fit into?

Because for all the seriousness and depth of his themes, people connect with Gormley, love Gormley, precisely because he allows his humans – us, his audience – to be playful. So ‘Event Horizon’ can become an upmarket Where’s Wally?, or ‘Hatch’ a home serieux Crystal Maze, and we are reminded that there is always laughter in the darkness.

If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be subject to that most universal of human experiences, queuing, to get into various installations. If there wasn’t, you wouldn’t be able to buy a Gormley cloud dome as you leave. And if there wasn’t, you wouldn’t see a couple kissing by the glow of the blind, white light.

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