“Hi! Hi? Can you step next to? You are in the picture!” The two visitors to the Voorlinden Museum look in surprise at the long dark tunnel. “I hear a voice,” one says. “Is it part of this work of art?”
No, it was me from the other end of Antony Gormley’s Passage (2016), a 12 meter long steel tunnel with the angular contours of its own body. When you stand in front of the narrow tunnel, you can see about three meters away, because the end is closed. Inside, there is just enough space and light to keep you from becoming anxious. Looking back from the end, the world looks surprisingly bright and hopeful. I wanted to capture it in a picture. But those ladies, I thought, disturbed the beautiful light cross, the steel reflected.
At the exhibition Land Voorlinden shows highlights from the sculptor Antony Gormley’s oeuvre (London, 1950) inside the halls and outside the park. His work is always based on his own body and is about the space we occupy with our body. At the end of that tunnel, I felt very aware of that space. I even thought I was entitled to the piece of the world that unfolded beyond the end. Due to the tunnel acoustics, the women did not understand what I wanted (and afterwards the picture where one can vaguely see a red jacket is the best).
Gormley is known for iconic images, such as The angel of the North (1998), a twenty meter tall angel with outstretched wings at Newcastle, the 26 meter tall seated man exposure (2010) on the dike at Lelystad, a Event horizonwhere he places dozens of human images on rooftops, as in 2008 around the Kunsthal in Rotterdam.
Gormley believes that art is a form of skepticism. Artists must think freely and ask questions through their work, he explains during a tour. According to him, the only thing we know for sure as self-thinking people is that we live in a body. We are responsible for that body, for life, for all life. Trade it.
man of lead
The awareness of the space a body occupies is already evident in one of his earliest works in the exhibition: My clothes (1980/2020). Just like you can crack a hollow Easter egg in two, Gormley has cut his clothes. The two halves now hang on the wall, with the inside of a Brooks Brothers underpants to the right, behind beige pants, red socks, red undershirt, white shirt and a dark blue jacket. To the left hangs the same row with the inside of the front. You then realize that your body also fills the space in your clothes.
Such a sense of space is also present in the leading man, who stares at you with hollow eyes, over a large piece of lead which he holds in front of him (membrane, 1986). In the same room, another image shimmers just above the ground, and a third hangs high in a corner like a diver ready for the jump. They are in places in space where you are not. The sculptures are fairly finished, their beauty stems from the pure simplicity of the concept. They are the building blocks of Gormley’s argument.
Also read: Gormley’s cast iron giants populate Parisian halls
Kilometers of pipes
The second track in the exhibition is a game with museum space. Clearing VIII (2020), for example, consists of several kilometers of rectangular aluminum tube that winds transversely in all directions through a museum space. The pipe has been forced into shapes with pieces of ferrous metal and attached to the walls here and there. To get to the next room, go above and below it. Gormley makes you aware of space and forces your body into positions. The most emotional of the series of halls is Amazonas mark (1992), where the floor is filled with 24,000 red-fired clay figures. It is one of his ‘Field’ works, where he has a local population (in this case from Porto Velho in Brazil) cast people of local clay, who must meet three conditions: in hand, able to stand, two eyes dotted. On the edge of such a space filled with beautiful statues, you feel a sense of responsibility for their – our – fate.
After the exhibition inside, you have seen so many bodies in so many poses that out in the woods one doubts what is twenty meters away near the meadow: is it a tree stump, a sculpture or a human? It turns out to be one of the group’s sixty pictures Critical Exhibition II (1995). They stand, sit or lie down and fall wonderfully into the landscape. In the hilly forest you will soon be looking for them like a bird watcher. But it works: you feel a kinship with that image near the meadow, and you want to see what he sees (three Lakenvelder cows chewing in the shade, behind the meadow is a country house between the trees). You realize how a person is a piece of space in the landscape. You too at all times, like a passerby and the dog he walks.
Few artists place the viewer as central as Gormley. But if you do not know his thoughts and intentions, then what is left? Put it Passagetunnel at an amusement park and it is an attraction among the others. So what? His message definitely reaches out there: Pay attention to space, have respect for the earth, the biosphere and each other. Find solid ground – Land is the name of the exhibition – for your life.