Antony Gormley's Blind Light at the Hayward

The advertised part of Antony Gormley's Blind Light exhibition at the Hayward is a room full of very dense fog. It is a remarkable installation, but of that more later. There are other parts to it which are worth seeing by themselves.

I've seen a lot of exhibitions that seek to use the viewer as part of the art, but none as successful as this one. It involves you, the viewer, very directly but your experience of most of the pieces is dependent on the presence and actions of others.

The first installation, Spaceship, is huge - twenty-seven tonnes of metal that fills the room. Both irregular, looking like a hunk of technology torn off an orbiting leviathan hurled to earth, and highly regular, with holes aligned on a cubic grid, you can stand up close to it, peering into holes to see the interior, but the best effect is standing back, on the stairs, watching what could, for all the world, be Iron Age humans looking in incomprehension and disbelief at this monster crammed into a small space.

Another piece is a set of boxes, with holes to approximate human orifices, based on the sizes of inhabitants of Malmö from eighteen months to eighty years old. More than anything else in the exhibition, it depersonalises the viewer. You can find boxes of the same height as yourself, but the association is uncomfortable: reduced to boxes on the basis of phyisiognomy in a field of similar, pallid, stained figures I found reminded me of concentration camps. Now, it is at times (and I mean no offence here) hackneyed to make comparisons with the Holocaust but in this case it is, I think valid. There is a meme somewhere on the interweb about the time it takes for an online discussion to descend into comparisons with Hitler. The random positioning, crowdedness and ghastly similarity to humans along with, as I said, the hint of Eugenics left me feeling that I was standing in a field of half-humans, only their measurements in a forgotten archive to remind us of their existence.

I don't think this was Gormley's intent; another piece is a lost-wax cast of him in a cube, so that you can see the gaps where his head and hands were, which more successfully captures the dichotomy between something that protects at the same time as restricting your freedom.
It is often better to be in chains than to be free
-Franz Kafka

While I am not certain how successful Gormley was in his aim in the field of boxes, it is nevertheless a very worthy piece of art. The main installation, Blind Light, is excellent. In essence, it is simple: a glass box filled with fog. It is, though, the densest fog I've ever seen. Perhaps fifteen centimetres from your face, your hand is a shape and fully outstretched it is invisible. As I said before, the presence of others is essential. When walking around the outside, people come up against the glass and interact with you while you can do the same when inside. Walking across the box is the Gormley's most successful means of picking up on the aforementioned dichotomy. There is no feeling of danger and the new experience is quite welcome, but you have to proceed slowly, with arms outstretched, to avoid running into people. The visitors were being terribly British, with occasional cries of 'Oh, excuse me!' as they touched one another. While that is all fun, the water underfoot, the lack of vision and the water condensing on your clothes and exposed skin means that you are slightly on edge.

As to the title, Blind Light, it is an interesting reflection, much in line with the protection-restriction, quod me nutrit me destruit, idea that the excess of light which we need to see makes it impossible to function as the sighted would normally do.

The rest of the indoor exhibition is worth seeing, but less effective, consisting essentially of casts of Gormley's body in different suspensions and contortions.

Outside, the sculptor of The Angel of the North goes for another grand-scale work - casts of his body again, but on rooftops and ledges around the Hayward. I'm going to go back when it's less crowded and wander around the area taking pictures of the casts that make up Event Horizon, so more of that in another post. I would say, though, that in keeping with the guide to the exhibition, the title seems pretentious. An event horizon is the maximum limit of light from a given event, such that in proximity to a black hole all light paths lead back to the centre. This seems very much at odds with the idea of appreciation of a single event in two, apparently contradictory ways.

Event Horizon is free to be photographed - they could do no other, given that it is outdoors and lends itself to photographs. It is a shame the Hayward or the exhibitor would not allow photos within the exhibition. There are no delicate paints to be protected and it would allow further interaction with the installations, later reflection on them and the creation of mini-artworks. It'd also be a lot of fun.



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