Sarcophagi for life

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Antony Gormley‘s obsession with the body as a sculptural object–and the “uncertainty about where that body fits in the world,” and where the male body in sculpture fits in a post-heroic situation was at the center of his talk at Moore College Monday to an audience of about 150 people taking a break from thinking about the next day’s election (top, “Capacitor”).

Gormley, an English sculptor known for his figures, was making “body cases,” when I first came upon his work. He was wrapping himself in a skin of lead and then using that empty lead skin as a sculpture. Needless to say, he did come down with lead poisoning and had to suspend the practice.

He had been using lead, he said, to take the real object out of time, trasnforming the raw material of life. “A real moment of lived time is captured,” he said. It’s the place in the art world “where the body [that] was left out by Modernism can fit in.”

He did not discuss the “body case” as a sarcophagus, a kind of all-body death mask. He did not really elucidate his choice of a deadly material like lead (image right, “Word Made Fresh”), .

If you read Roberta and my previous post on how Antony Gormley unwittingly turned us into sculptors, you already know that these were concerns on both our parts.

When Gormley switched from lead, he said, he could no longer use the kind of revealed interior that the body cases had allowed him. But he’s still making sculptures that imply there’s an interior, he’s still making a sort of every-man figure with few distinguishing characteristics, and he’s using them architecturally, to define exterior space instead of the interior space (left, “Bodies in Space”).

The body and architecture or framing space are the two topics of sculpture, he said. He’s got a point, but pardon my skepticism, because the definition fits his practice a little too conveniently.

Gormley’s more recent work is quite architectural, some with bodies, some without. I like the way he bracketed the corners of a room with bodies (right, “Drawn 2). And I liked the way he created an expanded body that looked almost like a ball, enormous, heavy, imposing.

Random comment: Gormley expressed admiration for the work of Tom Friedman, who by using styrofoam as a material, is linking the material to the subject matter–both nothingness.

My favorite confession: Even though Gormley’s work has stepped away from the body in his sculpture, he still feels compelled to make casts of his body a couple of times a week. He said of the body casts, “They are me and not me,” and then he added, “The body is the touchstone for the unlocking of experience.”

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