Gormley gives his audience a lot to chew on

Updated: 2016-03-22 08:31

By Lin Qi(China Daily USA)

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In less than a minute, Antony Gormley creates his latest sculpture in front of a full house of teachers and students who attend his lecture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, on a recent night.

He takes the top slice of a loaf of bread placed on a table, eats a bit and puts it back.

"It does not taste very nice. I'm beginning to regret (eating) it," says the London-born sculptor as he swallows the bread, causing the auditorium to burst into laughter.

"You just witnessed a sculpture being made: A loaf of bread that is one bite less is becoming my energy. It might become a thought."

It reminds people of another work of the 66-year-old artist called Bed, in which he stacks up more than 8,600 loaves of bread to form a cube, and hollows out the top center by eating out two images of his recumbent body.

Since the 1980s, Gormley has used his body as a material and the subject of his works. In doing so, he encourages viewers to probe the relationship between their physical and spiritual lives and the environment they live in.

"I'm interested in how things that we already know about can be transformed, so that we look at the world again in a way that we wouldn't if we hadn't come across it (being) translated in this way."

Although many of his works look quite abstract, Gormley says viewers need no instruction or information or catalog to understand them. He sees his exhibitions - including the one currently on at the Galleria Continua Beijing - as an invitation for people to return to their first-hand experiences and to recognize physical feelings.

The show displays several of Gormley's iconic cast iron body statues and mild steel sculptures that transform the human body into the structure of a high-rise building.

The centerpiece is an installation called Host, in which the gallery's central space is filled with seawater and clay. The mixture of about 95 cubic meters contains seawater shipped in from the Tianjin coast and red earth from Beijing's Changping district, in the 50-50 ratio. The audience can stand on the threshold of three gates on one side, and look at the water surface that extends as far as 23 meters.

This is the third time Host, a work devoted to a specific site, is on show, after being conceived for and shown in the United States in 1991 and later in Germany in 1997.

Host is closely related to Asian Field, another installation presented in Guangzhou, which then toured Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing in 2003. About 210,000 small clay figures, crafted by local farmers of southern China under Gormley's guidance, occupied the exhibition space impressing many Chinese who saw their first Gormley work then.

Both Host and Asian Field rise 23 centimeters from the ground and use local earth.

"When you look at the reflections, the water and the earth, you end up looking at yourself ... you are obliged to think about what your relationship is with the future or the planet. This is the circuit that art can provide.

"It has nothing to do with receiving a precise message. It is not propaganda. It is not making you do or think anything. It's an invitation for you to look again," says Gormley.

He has also taken his public project Event Horizon to Hong Kong in which 31 life-size body sculptures are installed on the streets and on the roofs of commercial buildings in the Central and Western districts. The statues are either in close proximity of the crowds in the streets, or overlook highly populated cityscapes. They, however, emit a sense of loneliness and exclusion amid the hustle and bustle.

The work was first created in 2007, the year when more than half of the global population were first recorded living in the urban grid.

"This is the only sustainable future for our species - that we live in an environment of high density and high rises.

"In Hong Kong, Event Horizon is a kind of process about the condition of individuals in a city devoted to corporate culture. We've found ourselves in a paradox of position - of living closer and closer together while having less direct contact with each other," says Gormley.

He says that he is very committed to the idea of art playing its part in a collective space, because that is what art has always done. And although his many works are placed in public spaces, like the beach or the street, he doesn't like the idea of calling a category public art.

"All art is made to be shared, and all art should be capable of surviving in the public space."

linqi@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily USA 03/22/2016 page7)

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