journal of contemporary art
■ antony gormley
You are best known for your figurative sculptures in lead,
made from molds done of your own body. Most recently exhibited in New
York was your installation work Field, which consisted of 35,000
hand-sized terra-cotta figures made with the Texca Family in Cholula,
Mexico, who are brickmakers by trade. Can you discuss your experience
collaborating with a group as opposed to your often solitary way of
Symbolically, why did you choose to work in earth for this piece?
You have expressed a belief in art's capacity to be a catalyst for change and a healing force in the world. How have the political implications of this conviction developed?
Having lived for a time in India, early in your career, Indian culture and Buddhism have had a major influence on your views about art. How does this fundamentally find form in your work?
How do you regard your position among your contemporaries in new British sculpture?
Can you explain the female aspects of your approach?
One of your primary focuses has been to bring about a shift in the perception of the viewer to a more contemplative, primal state — a level of awareness experienced more prevalently among tribal cultures such as the Aborigines who have a greater affinity to the natural world. How permanently can such an experience be sustained amidst the pressures of modern society?
Steadfastly, you have embraced spirituality in your art, a somewhat unpopular attitude in recent years. Do you feel this position will be adopted more predominantly as we come to the end of this millennium?
A lot of my work is completed by others, part of its potential comes “through” people — in this work in particular. Of course, there was a vast range of response — for some of my collaborators the whole thing was a game; for others, a task not dissimilar from making tortillas; for others, like Santiago and Tomas, it was something else. The work became a kind of pool that could contain boredom and inspiration. What started as work, turned quite quickly into a kind of self-generating energy in which people could celebrate their differences. For some it was difficult at first to accept that differences were tolerable — a brick is judged by its conformity to a standard. What we were doing was each finding our own way of making a hand-sized equivalent for the individual body as fast as possible, but at the same time we were contributing to this image of the collective body.
It has taken me a while to realize that life itself can be the subject and generating principle of art. I feel now that the rational mind, mine included, has evolved into an instrument of abuse and control. The return of the body is a necessary realignment — the return to the earth as material comes from the same impulse. The rational mind seems to edit and put a use value on the totality of the psyche. The relations between the “developed” and the “other” world mirror this. I am sure that art can recover a feeling of the wholeness of consciousness. The self-referential ideal for art was a mistake as was the postmodernist obsession with language. Art can be common, recognizable, and human, but by also being iconic and synthetic, catalyze an inner reflective response. Art has to deal with human situations; personal, political, and social — within them it can open up a space for reorientation. The political potential of art is that it recognizes the value of individual growth — what Beuys called “creative capital” — and this has nothing to do with economics. The only revolution that is going to work is an interior one.
India helped me value “being” itself — not thinking and doing, just being. By focusing the attention on the body through Vipassana meditation (which I studied on and off for two or three years), I experienced consciousness at the center of a transitive field of energy in which the “me” of the ordering mind was expelled.
In the lead work I have concentrated on the skin — the surface where substance gives way to appearance. The lead acts as a transforming membrane that dematerializes the body. The potential within this place of the body is expressed sometimes as visible darkness, sometimes as pressure, sometimes as emanation or extension.
The lead works are all concerned with dematerialization, now I want to work with the earth to create places of feeling. I would like the work to grow rather than be made — sometimes I lose faith and the will intervenes. The female aspect of the work is where the faith in growth comes from. The challenge for contemporary art is to engage with the contemporary world without adding to the noise. I would like the work to make eloquent stillness and silence and to let us make contact with our whole selves so that we can take our place within the persistent phenomena of light, space, and nature.
Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.