21 April – 29 May 2004
Although Gormley is known for his sculpture in elemental materials such as lead, iron, clay or steel that frequently use a cast of his own body as the starting point for what the artist describes as ‘a phenomenological or psycho-spatial experience', this installation represented a radical new departure for the artist. Consisting of 7 kilometres of raw metal rod that arcs from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, it created an all-over matrix seemingly without a beginning or end, a three-dimensional drawing in space.
For Gormley, the confrontation between the stillness of an object and the movement of its beholder is key. This installation at White Cube acted as a kind of vector, encouraging the viewer to move through its structure, and in so doing, disrupting the authority of a single-point perspective, necessitating instead a constant renegotiation of the visual field. The work could be seen as a significant development from the artist's more recent sculptures that indicated an empty body space at the core of a spiral trajectory, since in this work there is no focal centre, and a delineated ‘body' is clearly absent. Gormley has often alluded to his work as ‘intimate architecture’ and in some way, this installation uses the walls of the gallery as a ‘skin', a limit or container for the structure within. Following the inherent tensile properties of his material, the metal is both holding the space and yielding to it. The artist's earlier work ‘Room' (1980) described a 20ft-square volume by demarcating it with ribbons of clothing, in this case the artists' own trousers, shirt, etc., cut into continuous spiral strips and in a similar manner, this installation is a description of volume, made manifest by the presence of a linear material. Outside the building, Gormley placed the ‘excluded body' of Aside (2002), a single oxidised iron figure that rested its head against the facade.
Gormley's works have consistently addressed our relationship to the outside world, underpinned by an acknowledgement of the spatial coordinates of a body at a particular moment in time and place. The works in this exhibition offers an ever-shifting field for the body of the viewer. His work has often been more than a visual experience, the combination of material and shape working to describe something wholly abstract in the sense of alluding to a physical awareness of one's own body and to a moment of lived existence. The artist has referred to his work as an ‘attempt to materialise uncertainty’: the uncertainty of things that we know to exist but don't have the language to describe. At the same time, however, this installation seems to describe the physical manifestation of velocity or a trajectory, conveying active energy in the way that the artist's earlier work such as Still Leaping (1994), Still Falling (1990) or Still Running (1986) attempted to convey speed not through the articulation of the body itself but rather of the space around it during movement.
In White Cube Hoxton Square, Gormley placed three body forms built up from individual cubes of steel. These crouching, lying and standing sculptures were placed in an orthogonal configuration within the white room. Once again, the viewer is invited to negotiate a space, but this time activated not through an implied movement but through the still presence of three works that act as a kind of residue, the indexical memory of a human space in space.