I was recently given feedback on my first Summative brief for my course. My outcome was based on metal sculptures for Dr. Martens, placed in different positions around London. My tutor thought I could push this concept further and recommended I look at the work of Antony Gormley. I saw an article in the Guardian with the headline, ‘Antony Gormley’s Event Horizon in London.’
This event featured thirty-one sculptures by Angel of the North artist Antony Gormley. These were seen across London’s horizon over the summer months of 2007. The figures were life-size casts of the artist’s body and were installed in locations around the capital. This was part of Gormley’s exhibition Blind Light, at the Hayward gallery. Cast iron sculptures made their appearance on bridges, rooftops and streets on the South Bank of the Thames River.
This public art project has since been repeated in New York City, ‘Event Horizon’. This time, New Yorkers also saw the same 31 slightly different sculptures of the same naked man, again Mr. Gormley himself. These were perched on rooftops, standing on the grounds of Madison Square Park and dotted along the sidewalks around the Flatiron district.
The reaction was quite remarkable on both occasions. Gormley stated, ‘People would stop. They would notice one; they would immediately stop somebody else on the street, pointing to the thing.’ I can imagine that this would cause gatherings of people, giving them the opportunity to register their environment in a way they hadn’t before.
It is said that the New York City Police Department had to pre-emptively reassure the public that the figures were not potential jumpers on the verge of committing suicide. This project, in my opinion, was meant just to be an amazing celebration of New York.
Gormley’s intention was to use the project as a way to get viewers thinking about the environment around them. After further research, I discovered the inspiration for the sculptures was from ancient sculpture from India as well as modernist masters like Joseph Beuys. Gormley had previously learnt about Buddhist meditation in India and Sri Lanka.
Gormley also captured attention when he arranged for members of the public each to have an hour of fame by standing atop the Fourth Plinth, a granite slab in Trafalgar Square. The project went around the clock for 100 days and caused a continuous traffic jam as pedestrians and drivers stopped to stare at the spectacle.
Gormley stated, ‘It is the sense of discovering the same body in very different circumstances, so it is less about the subject and more about the content.’ Even just by looking at the images from the project, it made me question the status of art and the nature of our built environment. I feel that this would be even more prominent now as we are in a time of rising environmental awareness; it may make more people question how a human being fits into the surrounding. It may suggest we all need to come together to make a difference to the environmental issues we are facing.
I feel that this project is very powerful; each sculpture stood more than 6 feet 2 inches tall, some cast in iron, others in fiberglass. Between the London and New York installation, the dimensions were not changed, even though London is not a city of skyscrapers as New York is. I get the impression that Gormley was not concerned about this difference because he stated, ‘Whether you’re looking at a body or a satellite dish, it almost becomes a game.’
He used his own body because he thought it would otherwise be difficult to communicate what he wanted; this made it more personal. I feel that this was so successful because the placement was so clever. They really focused on historic buildings, not only wanting viewers to look at the architecture but at the horizon line too and so value their environment. Gormley was obviously looking beyond just making a current spectacle; he wanted his audience to consider the long term future of their surroundings.