Sculpture exhibition gets physical

September 2007

Sharon Ann Holgate finds a surprising amount of physics in Antony Gormley’s sculptures.

If you visited London’s Southbank over the summer, you might have noticed some unfamiliar additions to the city skyline—31 life-size figures created by the sculptor Antony Gormley had taken up residence on walkways and rooftops. Gormley is probably most famous for Another Place, in which similar figures look out to sea from Crosby Beach near Liverpool, and for the gargantuan Angel of the North outside Gateshead.

Every figure was part of a work called Event Horizon and they faced Blind Light, the exhibition of Gormley’s works taking place at The Hayward Gallery. As I approached, my childish delight at spotting these new guardians gave way to a worry that someone might call the police, terrified a weary Londoner had finally snapped after one tube delay too many.

I love the fact art can provoke responses like these. During my PhD I was secretary of the Young Friends of Pallant House—a centre for modern art in Chichester—and I’ve been an avid gallery-goer since. Visiting Blind Light was going to make me forget about writing my solid-state physics textbook, surely?

Entering the exhibition I was confronted with Space Station—a collection of 480-odd cubic metres of steel plate boxes that make up the rough shape of a human body and which Gormley claims is a model for Stephen Hawking’s vision of a habitat in space. It was imposing, overwhelming and scary. Shift II was a figure pinned to the wall “as if held by a centrifugal force”, according to the exhibition guide. It also quoted Gormley explaining that he had taken the term “event horizon” from cosmology, the idea being that, just as we will never see parts of the universe, viewers of the rooftop figures – which were arranged over a 1.5 km2 area around the gallery – would question whether there were more figures beyond those visible on the horizon.