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Monday, 21 January 2013

Anthony Gormley: a model student?

It’s rare for me to see daylight on a Sunday. In this house we stick pretty hard and pretty fast to the whole ‘day of rest’ rule. Sundays usually involve me staving off an insatiable desire to order a third Chinese takeaway, day terrors from the hazy night before (did I REALLY tell the TV presenter Rick Edwards to stop stalking me?) or simply crying into a sick bucket. So when I awoke at a reasonable time this Sunday, not shaking, or sweating, or wiping kebab meat from my face I felt the occasion had to be marked. This was the week I was leaving my Booze Britain banner behind and striding out as the accomplished, cultured, Sunday outing kind of girl. The girl deep down I KNEW I could always be.

So off I went, and boy did I go…SOUTH of the river… on a Sunday!!  I didn’t realise they let North Londoners out there on the Sabbath. To Bermondsey, the place everyone keeps telling me is up and coming, along with just about every other part of London.  With a slightly warm, smug feeling in my stomach that I was out instead of wretching and my flatmate on my arm we went to see the Anthony Gormley exhibition currently on at White Cube. By this point you’ve possibly summed me up as a lager lout who prefers Pollock with chips and curry sauce instead of in galleries but you would be wrong. I really love art and from previous Gormley I’ve seen I went with high hopes.

I’m a sucker for a bold, recurring theme in art and Gormley knows how to push my buttons. ‘The Angel of the North’ was my first Gormley sighting, driving along the motorway with my mum I was won over by the eye sore. Enormous and industrial yet at the same time a human like figure of hope. Plus I’m Northern so them there Northern roots of mine were kind of obliged to fall for it. Next came the human figures in the sea (‘Another Place’) and on tops of buildings and my mind was awash with imagery, ‘are we all just lost at sea?’ ‘Are we looking out into the abyss together, searching for our souls from above? Hidden but exposed?’ Deep I know. Finally, the ‘fourth plinth’ in Trafalgar Square. People whipping their clothes off in public – genius! So I went ready for round four in the hope of not being disappointed.

And I wasn’t. I hadn’t been to White Cube Bermondsey before and I instantly liked the space. Barren, bright white, minimalist, it had all the makings for strong, bold installation pieces and by the final piece under the same name of the entire exhibition, ‘Model’ Gormley really utilises this space to it’s fullest. Anyway, I digress; let’s start at the beginning. The central corridor as you first walk in holds some of Gormley’s new sculptures built from solid iron blocks. I think in this case, White Cube summed up what I saw pretty well (rare for a contemporary gallery not to get saturated with eloquent ramblings that leave me more puzzled as to what I’m actually meant to be looking at.) ‘Propping up architecture, articulating a corner or lying flat on the ground, these dark works test the bounding condition of the space.’ Part human, part architecture I related to these pieces as I tried to search for the human figure in them.  To be honest, a lot of the figures looked drunk, all part of the fun as we tried to invent amusing scenarios as to why they were in those positions, disrupting our path through the gallery.

As you go through the rest of the rooms many of the architectural figures are reminiscent of the metal human figures in the sea, Gormley certainly has his theme and he’s sticking to it.  Some work very well; others have hidden the human so deep in architecture that I struggled to relate to the rusty looking metal boxes. A particularly nice piece on one of the workshop tables of smaller models was of five white figures, the first starting out as a white block and the final being shaped into an intensely detailed robot-like tiny human. This to me summed up a lot of the exhibition’s point between architecture and human interaction. It made me realise how often we are in contact with architecture but how little we pay attention to it. Every day I walk past hundreds of amazing buildings on London’s streets and don’t even consider their fabric, design and the work that went into them. The fact that so many old buildings stand in the city today is surely a testament to the architects who designed them. Even my walk home after entailed a detour to one of the latest new buildings, the Shard and despite not being that keen on it I couldn’t help but appreciate its sheer size and new landmark status. Architecture plays such a small part in my interests but Gormley’s work made me remember a lot of its beauty.

Summing up the exhibition and returning to where I started the highlight for me was the main interactive piece ‘model’. Created from 100 tonnes of weathered sheet steel the hollow architectural building was meant to look much like the “human” models we had just seen in the corridor but on a much grander scale. However, looking at it you wouldn’t have known this; it instead resembled large, rusting building blocks. I love interactive art and with this the human and architecture were quite literally brought together. We had to sign a disclaimer before we entered stating we wouldn’t sue White Cube for hitting our heads and were advised not to be ‘under the influence of alcohol when inside,’ (I gleefully ticked that one off!) Getting this before going in all added to the excitement of what we were about to let ourselves in for. We were assured that there was one entrance and one exit so it we’d be able to navigate our way back out. It’s remarkable how scared you get going into complete darkness, the unknown and a few times I grabbed my flatmate’s hand unsure as to whether to proceed further. We walked through room upon room, some in complete darkness, and others we could see light at the end, different heights of ceilings and at times crawling through on our hands and knees. A particularly scary bit came at a dead end where you needed to crouch to get into a completely black unknown area. We were very happy when some people entered and lit the room up with their mobile phone light, revealing what we actually knew was there all along, an empty room. Still, the absolute darkness instilled a frightful excitement in us, only being able to hear voices and not fully knowing how to get back out. A second viewing from the outside and I could see a slightly more human outline this time, we entered at the feet and dead-ended into darkness at the head. It was difficult to re-trace what steps we had made inside when looking at the mound of steel externally and it was interesting to hear the voices from the outside of people trying to find there way around inside. The metal, human like figure was actually breathing and speaking. At this point the steel building conjured up wonderful merging imagery of a dwelling and functioning human being. Gormley had succeeded with me once again.

We may have digressed to the pub after to discuss Gormley’s big bold concepts and those pressing life questions (“seriously, how many poppadoms COULD you eat in one sitting?”) but I think I could get used to these guilt free Sundays. In fact, I think there’s only one thing for it… drink more on Fridays so come Sunday I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the next exhibition London has to offer me!

By Becky Storr

Antony Gormley: Model is on at White Cube until the 10th of Febuary 2013.

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