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Antony Gormley ‘Body Politic’ at White Cube Bermondsey

Antony Gormley’s multi-dimensional approach simultaneously spans conceptual themes, site-specific narrative and physical execution in a complex political investigation.


We live in an age where the promise of unity and equality brought on by an increasingly globalised world is not fulfilled. Instead we are governed by nationalism and dictatorship, whose extremism results in isolation. The growing polarity between camps over migrant crisis management, just representation of minority groups and the sectors of the wealth index are a few examples of where the nature of human togetherness has become disastrously fractured. Inherently related to this brokenness is the tension between humanity’s need for protection and the natural urge to roam. Gormley sees the political status quo as a problematic catalyst for forced roaming- more specifically, the displacement of refugee communities.


Driven to create work that directly confronts themes surrounding the human condition, Antony Gormley’s most recent exhibition at White Cube aims to materialise our common states in an effort to recognise the potential in humanity’s universality- ideally closing this disruptive gap. Running through each work are reflections on architecture as it relates to the figure: as indexically part of the composition, dependent on its overall form, and in creating our habitat through a dominantly industrial infrastructure.


The show is comprised of five distinct installations throughout White Cube’s Bermondsey location, a gallery space which is routinely flawless in engaging with the work it houses (a relief, as environment is integral to Gormley’s practice where the body and the space are consistently linked). The most powerful statement regarding politically forced displacement runs through the spine of the gallery, with Retreat (2022-2023).


Installation view of 'Body Politic', with a 'Retreat' sculpture pictured on the lower left
Installation view of 'Body Politic', with a 'Retreat' sculpture pictured on the lower left

Eight concrete sculptures are cast to the scale of the artist’s body- each forming an ‘intimate bunker for one’ with a mouth-like opening that reveal a hollow centre. Reflecting on the personal space within, and the universal nature of our bodies as vessels, the concrete forms aid in this urge to be protected whilst attempting to embrace these shared characteristics for all to identify with. The spectrum of body postures in paired down geometric design render the form as belonging to all, and physically leading us visitors through the gallery on a migratory journey of our own.


What crescendos in the gallery at the top of this spine is Resting Place (2023), the scattered civilisation whose journey resulted in a homogenous field of figures, barely distinguishable from the landscape they inhabit. Gormley’s headlining political statement is reinforced by driving we visitors through the maze of haphazard bodily forms, and forcing us to uncomfortably weave our way through this maze. Looming over our fellow man, the statement has reached performative new heights, as we feel suddenly dethroned by our privileged position of superiority in a literal and figurative context.


Installation view of 'Resting Place' (2023)
Installation view of 'Resting Place' (2023)

The North Gallery contains a series of six ‘Weave Works’, mapping the volume of the human body. Following such grandiose political observations on humankind that left us physically transposed within the discourse, Test (2023) sustains our proximity to these subjects by introducing a newfound intimacy. A powerful characteristic of Gormley’s work is his ability to capture the organic energy in physical expression through his approach to posture.


'Test' (2023)
'Test' (2023)

'Test' (2023)
'Test' (2023)

The weight of a heavy head against sloping shoulders exudes a palpable melancholia. The metal frames that warp and shift as the viewer circles the form breathes undeniable life and feeling into the object with which (or whom) we begin to connect with…and perhaps, this proverbial gap begins to close. The recurring significance of architecture does not go amiss, as the figures lean against the walls of the gallery and White Cube itself becomes part of the art object as is so integral to Gormley’s indexical figures within their environment.


This notion recurs in the penultimate gallery with Bind (2023), where three thick ribbons of rolled black steel extend from the floor, ceiling and walls, converging in the centre of the room to create a body of tangled orthogonal lines. Described as a ‘three-dimensional drawing’, the physicality of this figure is denoted by this single running line, which both activates and is activated by the architecture in which it is held.


'Bind' (2023)
'Bind' (2023)

On the one hand, the activation fails due to its position within the gallery against the far wall and not in the centre of the room. The public is encouraged to duck beneath the outstretched metal ribbons but this is not natural- in practice, we feel barred from the space behind. That said, perhaps this is a simultaneous statement on the unchanging two dimensionality of line, but unfortunately this conflicts with other characteristics of the work.


The final gallery contains Stand (2023), a figure composed of stacked steel beams that rises nearly 5 metres tall. In this work, the figure shares characteristics of industrial architecture, where one is mimicking the other in an ongoing exchange that both reveres and dispels the other. Perhaps in referencing the complex nature of man-made monuments, we observe the vulnerability of such creations but also celebrate their capacity for optimism and regeneration.


'Stand' (2023)

Gormley succeeds in approaching ambitious concepts within new territory, adhering to fundamental components of his core practice to do so. The result does not offer distinctly new work, but instead sheds light on new areas which reinforces the undeniable intricacy of Gormley’s work that continues to reach new joyous depths.


'Body Politic is on view at White Cube Bermondsey until January 2024.



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