New York

Antony Gormley

Salvatore Ala

It seems that for Antony Gormley the drawing is not a premeditative step toward his sculpture but rather a distinct entity operating within its own set of terms. It is, nevertheless, in the exchange (or difference) between the two mediums that a common field of meaning may be illuminated.

Gormley’s generalized but life-sized sculptures of the male figure bear little relation to the autobiographical body of Expressionism and may be more fruitfully considered as part of an “alchemical metaphysics” alongside the work of, say Joseph Beuys or Jannis Kounellis, where matter and spirit are engaged in a liturgy of transmutation. Moreover, Gormley’s silent, humanlike figure, fabricated from molded and seamed lead, invokes the speechless clay golem of Hebrew legend. The material of each is seemingly robust, but its physical mass is susceptible to the effects of its companion elements (fire, air, and water). It is malleable, but the resultant form contains a dangerous potency. The golem is summoned into life, or awakened into consciousness, by a divine incantation; but the forces thereby unleashed must be eventually restrained by the Kabbalist inscription (Emeth/truth: Meth/death) with which it is marked. Thus while it is language that governs the life and death of the golem, it is a geometry of seams that “humanizes” and yet “binds” Gormley’s leaden body, according to a meditational symmetry, to the rational coordinates of three-dimensional space.

The status of this figure is not unlike that imputed to the unconscious. As the golem is called into being, so the unconscious, in the psychoanalytic relation, is brought into a conscious engagement; but it is nonetheless restrained by the language that frames it. Locatable neither in the conscious mind nor in the physical body, the unconscious would appear to be operative at the interface of states of being. It is the problem of the interface—the marking of boundaries and the interchange of inner and outer states—that determines the common ground of Gormley’s drawing and sculpture. In the drawings the outline of a male figure is here erased, there displaced; the manikin attempts to chisel a way out of his entrapment in a keyhole, or seeks the limits of his body in a domestic enclosure; he slips between the sanguine bodies of two kidneys or, headless, floats at the ceiling of a vacant room.

In the sculpture, the dialogue between spirit and matter is mediated by a leaden shell whose hollowness defines a lack of presence. This evacuated figure reappears in the drawing of an empty flask—a vessel that likewise fails to “explain” the nature of its absent contents. In a companion drawing, the flask contains the outline of another vessel—a chemical retort, or vaporizer, whose function is to mediate changes in states of matter but which “discharges” outside the holding body, recalling the impotent desire implied in Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, 1915–23. Desire, as a function of the unconscious, cannot safely be brought to light; but it is under the cover of dark-ness that man may sense its potency. Thus it is within a field of blackness that the figure in Gormley’s drawing holds out his lighted candle/erectile penis. It is in darkness that, through the body’s emissions and orifices, the exterior and the interior terrain interpenetrate; it is in darkness that man is connected in timeless space to his origins and his fate, and it is at night that he prefers to rehearse ceaselessly, through sleep and sex, the ritual of life and death.

Jean Fisher