For the last thirty years, London-born artist Anthony Gormley has been exploring the form of the human body and its role as a place of memory and transformation. “I am interested in the body”, he says, “because it is the place where emotions are most directly registered. When you feel frightened, when you feel excited, happy, depressed, somehow the body registers it.”
A perfect example of the artist's corporeal fascination is Angel of the North (1998), a massive sculpture that stands like an airplane-winged sentry on the A1 at Gateshead. Gormley used his own body for works that are epic in scale, such as the 100 cast-iron versions of himself in the Austrian Alps, for example. He has also used other people's bodies, as in the controversial performance piece One and Other on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth, on which ordinary people could spend an hour doing what they pleased. Now comes the piece he has described as the culmination of ten years of studies on how the human body relates to architecture: Model, a vast installation made up of twenty-four interconnected steel chambers that people can walk through, climb in, or just hang out in.
Held in White Cube in Bermondsey, the biggest commercial space in Britain and one of the largest in Europe, Model is made up of 100 tons of sheet steel bolted and welded together into a welcoming structure. Its labyrinthine interior is left for visitors to explore on their own. One has to bend down and even crawl in certain parts, and the only health and safety advice given was "mind your head." Those who are claustrophobic might break out in cold sweats knowing that Gormley believes that over 1,000 people could fit inside at one time.
Gormley hopes that visiters will use the installation in whatever way pleases them. As he told The Guardian, "I don't want to put any parameters on how people choose to relate to this object, either inside or out. My son went in and he was all over it; he used it as a parkour course."
The gallery space leading up to Model holds a series of reddish cast blocks on the floor, meant to resemble bricks, the origins of the modern city. As one continues to meander throughout the vast hall, the 'brick' formations grow in size, becoming increasingly more complex. Eventually the 'bricks' begin to resemble scale models of cities, the kind one might see in a museum diorama.
Moving further through the show, one begins to see the shape of a rather forlorn-looking standing figure, its cubic head slumped and pointed towards it's cubic feet. This is the first of many structures that begin to abstractly take a human form—some are so pixelated that finding our body's likeness is a stretch, but trust the eye to seek it out.
Model lies in the final gallery space, an unmistakably human formation made up of steel rooms: a building that’s also a body. One enters through the feet, and explores to their heart's content as Gormley envisioned.
"This is the first time, in a long and winding road that has taken 30-odd years to travel, that I've made a body that you can actually go in. I think it's a breakthrough." Gormley told The Guardian, of his creation.
"We are in a time when the sort of things people will do in art galleries is changing all the time. We're not surprised to have people running, jumping, dancing and I think this is right. Galleries and museums are no longer the august 'guardians of taste' presenting to people the masterpieces of the already known parameters of beauty. They are places where human nature and human behavior has to be tested, extended, challenged.”
Model, is free at White Cube Bermondsey from November 28 to February 10th, 2013