It ir­ri­tates antony gorm­ley that he’s of­ten per­ceived as a fig­u­ra­tive sculp­tor. he talks to stephen short about space, the body, per­cep­tions and his ex­pan­sive hong kong project

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life - Antony Gorm­ley on Sculp­ture was pub­lished by Thames & Hud­son in Oc­to­ber. Event Hori­zon, var­i­ous lo­ca­tions, Novem­ber 19 un­til May 15. Visit even­tho­ri­

Sculp­tor Antony Gorm­ley on space, the body, per­cep­tions and his Hong Kong project

In a world where Nasa’s New Hori­zons space­craft has just flown by Pluto, where man’s evo­lu­tion from Homo sapi­ens to tran­shu­man is now tan­gi­ble, the ar­rival of Bri­tish sculp­tor Antony Gorm­ley’s

Event Hori­zon in Hong Kong this month—31 weighty hu­man fig­ures placed on build­ings and pave­ments around the tall, small city— is an apt com­ment on the times. Ex­hi­bi­tion­ist yet in­tro­vert, col­lec­tive yet soli­tary, still yet sprint­ing, am­bi­tious yet ni­hilis­tic, minute yet in­fi­nite, Youni­ver­sal. Gorm­ley’s work is trou­bling or tri­umphant, cel­e­bra­tion or com­mis­er­a­tion; it’s your choice, your read­ing, your feel­ing, all part of his par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach to life at the aes­thetic edge.

Gorm­ley has much to dis­cuss. “What is your per­cep­tion since 1997 in the change of char­ac­ter of Hong Kong?,” he Skypes from a hol­i­day home in Nor­folk, England. I men­tion the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, cul­tural shift and the break­neck speed of artis­tic evo­lu­tion. “From an out­sider’s point of view, Hong Kong’s like a city on steroids,” he says. “Like it’s been in a gym and is mus­cle-built, with­out a very strong sense of where the epi­cen­tres of the city are.”

The sculp­tor has been do­ing his re­search. “I’ve been read­ing Ab­bas [Ack­bar Ab­bas,

Hong Kong: Cul­ture and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ap­pear­ance] about what is cul­tur­ally and po­lit­i­cally more im­por­tant in the de­vel­op­ment of the new Hong Kong sub­jec­tiv­ity. Hong Kong had no his­tory prior to the 1840s… and here we’ve got this mega in­ter­na­tional city… which in some way has had this sec­ondary colo­nial iden­tity but now can con­struct its own. It’s not sur­pris­ing that art be­comes an im­por­tant tool in the con­struc­tion of that iden­tity. The in­ter­est­ing thing now is how that iden­tity or his­tory can be­come the cat­a­lyst or foundation for a new iden­tity. We are watch­ing a process of the evo­lu­tion of an iden­tity.” Most fa­mous for his An­gel of the

North sculp­ture in Gateshead, England, the 65-year-old is ac­claimed for art that in­ves­ti­gates the re­la­tion­ship of the hu­man body to space. His work has de­vel­oped the po­ten­tial of sculp­ture through a crit­i­cal en­gage­ment with his body and those of oth­ers in a way that con­fronts fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of where hu­man be­ings stand in re­la­tion to na­ture and the cos­mos. He’s most in­ter­ested in see­ing be­yond the built world, the city grids that bind us, and think­ing out­side the box. Body as space, as black hole, as ther­apy.

The iden­tity prob­lem in Hong Kong he ap­plies equally to his own medium. “Sculp­ture


can no longer sim­ply re­in­force the known; it has to be a bridge to the un­known. It can no longer give us a sense of iden­tity; by cel­e­brat­ing the past, it has to be open to pos­si­ble fu­tures. We ex­ist in space, but space also ex­ists in us.” For Gorm­ley, the sub­ject of space is om­nipresent. “I hope [Event Hori­zon] is a way of talk­ing about an open­ness to a fu­ture that hasn’t hap­pened but seems full of pos­si­bil­ity. We don’t know which way it’s go­ing to go, whether it’s a crack­down from Bei­jing or, as seems in­creas­ingly likely, that Hong Kong will find its voice and be­come a cul­tural cen­tre with its own iden­tity, not just a re­ceiver.” He refers to the in­stal­la­tions that form

Event Hori­zon as cul­tural acupunc­ture or ther­apy. “We’ve got 31 nee­dles go­ing into var­i­ous parts of the col­lec­tive body, and we have to see what kind of re­sponses and en­er­gies each one elic­its. It’s an ex­per­i­ment. With any luck, that will pro­voke the re­flec­tive ques­tion—what am I do­ing in this world and what is this world any­way?”

The idea to stage Event Hori­zon in the city crys­tallised in 2012. It was due to open last year, un­til a fi­nancier took his life by jump­ing off Chater House, on which Gorm­ley had planned to in­stall one of his fig­ures, prompt­ing owner Hongkong Land to pull its spon­sor­ship. That apart, Gorm­ley is thrilled by the city’s re­ac­tion to his project. “It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary how many peo­ple have made it their mis­sion. The gov­ern­ment have been very strong sup­port­ers, and Adrian Cheng [founder of the K11 art mall] vis­ited me at my Lon­don stu­dio and had strong feel­ings about the ed­u­ca­tional open space in which ques­tions and feel­ings can be ar­tic­u­lated.”

It’s hard to look at Event Hori­zon and not feel echoes of those who fell to their deaths in New York on Septem­ber 11, 2001. And while re­cent fig­ures show Hong Kong’s sui­cide rate is lower this year than last year, it’s at an all-time high in the 15-24 age group. “It’s un­der­stand­able that peo­ple will think some­body’s jump­ing off a build­ing. But this piece is about the cel­e­bra­tion of life, and we’re back to this point about try­ing to con­sider what is the iden­tity or sub­jec­tive voice of Hong Kong. And if in the process of do­ing this we un­cover a si­lence, or the silent truth, that Hong Kong, de­spite its iden­tity as an in­ter­na­tional fi­nance cen­tre of ex­treme

in­ten­sity, has a shadow side... get­ting this out in the open can only be a pos­i­tive thing.”

For a man whose medium is bod­ies, Gorm­ley has lit­tle in­ter­est in phys­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion. “I use sculp­ture as a tool for mind­ful­ness. Th­ese are not nudes. They are naked peo­ple. They are hu­man spa­ces that dis­place space at large by their mass. They are sky-clad and they deal with bare life; I’m not in­ter­ested in the fe­male nude as a kind of ob­ject of de­sire. I’m more in­ter­ested in th­ese body forms them­selves, which are like black holes in hu­man form, dark sil­hou­ettes against the sky, in which the built en­vi­ron­ment that sur­rounds them is the thing that be­comes the fore­ground.”

Last year saw the open­ing of Room, a most ungorm­ley-like project—a lux­ury suite en­cased in a sculp­ture of a crouch­ing robot­like fig­ure atop Lon­don’s Beau­mont ho­tel. “On the out­side he’s a tin man. In­side, he’s in­fi­nite space,” says Gorm­ley of Room. He de­scribes the in­side, which has no win­dows, as be­ing a her­mit’s cave, “about the most in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence you can have... You be­gin to re­alise you’re in­side a black [Kaz­imir] Male­vich paint­ing. It’s a sub­lim­i­nally il­lu­mi­nated space. What is the real lux­ury of that work? Not to be at the world’s com­mand, to en­joy pure si­lence and real in­ti­macy. That’s what Room is.”

What’s the most com­mon mis­con­cep­tion about Gorm­ley? “It’s my fault. I’m still con­sid­ered a fig­u­ra­tive statue maker, which an­noys me. But I’ve ob­vi­ously got to con­tinue to work on that. There are two very dis­tinct lines in my work. One is to make a very ac­cu­rate ac­count of what it feels like to in­habit a body, of­ten us­ing the lan­guage of ar­chi­tec­ture to rein­ter­pret anatomy. The other is to make sit­u­a­tions in which peo­ple are in­vited to ob­serve their own ex­pe­ri­ence. In Event Hori­zon those two things come to­gether.

“My body is the only bit of the ma­te­rial world that I hap­pen to live in­side, and if I am in­ter­ested, as I am, in the mind/body prob­lem, then I’m in­ter­ested in feel­ing, the space, body as place, not as an ob­ject. The ac­ci­dent of ap­pear­ance is not some­thing that in­ter­ests me. I want a sense of con­nec­tion with the hori­zon, with space at large, so th­ese works are alert, erect, aware. How do you cap­ture that if you’re not in­ter­ested in ap­pear­ance? You have to live it.”

space man Pre­vi­ous spread: One of Antony Gorm­ley’s Event Hori­zon in­stal­la­tions in Lon­don in 2007. This spread, clock­wise from above: Gorm­ley; In­side Aus­tralia at Lake Bal­lard, Western Aus­tralia, in 2003; one of the Event Hori­zon in­stal­la­tions in New York in 2010

all at sea From above:

Still Stand­ing

at the State Her­mitage Mu­seum in St Peters­burg, Rus­sia, in 2011; de­tail from Land, Sea and Air II in 1982

In­side the BOX Breath­ing Room III at White Cube, Ma­son’s Yard, Lon­don, in 2010

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