Blog Post October 2019 by Wendy Dobing

Posted on October 05, 2019 at 9:04 AM

 Figuring It Out

Iron Baby: (Image #1) Before you enter the Royal Academy of Arts Building the exhibition begins. A tiny, delicate, cast iron baby is curled up on the pavement in the courtyard. It is so small it is easily missed. I was very touched by this sculpture of a tiny human. I wanted to reach out and touch it but I knew it would be cold, the opposite of what it represents. This sculpture is based on the artist's six day old daughter and our precarious position in relation to our planetary future.

Subject II: (Image #2) Straightaway this figure seems to be very human due to its posture and height. The way that people engage with it give it an animism of its own and yet it doesn't move or have eyes. Here Gormley is looking at the skin and what is beneath which he considers as the 'zone of life'. According to the guide, this sculpture 'tests the boundary between the body and space'. As with some of the other sculptures, it is eerily realistic.

The Matrix: (Images #3 & #4) This is vast grid structure of metal hanging from the ceiling. To me it was all about dimensions, a reminder that there is more than three. You can't help but look up and try to judge the density. It is also a little unnerving as you feel like a tiny thing beneath a vast cage of metal that could crush you.

The Clearing: (Images #5 & #6) An ironic name for this room which is full of coils of aluminium. They appear to be flexible as you move to get around them. I thought it did a good job of challenging the boundaries of space and uniformity that we saw in The Matrix.

Host: (Image #7) A very crowded doorway/threshold gave a preview of a very interesting vast room that you can't enter. The floor appears to be filled with a shallow layer of perfectly still golden clay and seawater. You can smell the water, drink in the light and the whiteness of the room as you are drawn to the simple serenity. As you stand there you stare straight at the closed ornate doorway at the other end. You can also see it's beautiful reflection in the stillness of the water. There is a curiousity about what is behind that door but as soon as you start to wonder your mind is diverted away due to the strange wave of cold wafting towards you. It is a room of nothing and everything at the same time.

The Cave: (Image #8) Before you go in you are warned that you are entering something very, very dark. It wasn't an exaggeration, for a moment I was lost in a dark space after walking through a doorway with a low ceiling. You can see daylight via straight cuts slabs that are stacked together. It's then that you feel small and yet can't stop staring at the light and the textures you can see on the slabs. This was about navigating with our senses but going beyond our usual reliance on sight. Looking at the map of the exhibition afterwards I noticed that the cave is formed in the shape of a Slabwork sculpture, ie curled up in a foetal position.

Mother's Pride: (Image #9) “I’m asking you a question in material form. What is a human life? A human life is actually a process. It’s not a ‘thing’ at all.” Antony Gormley asks us how this makes us feel. Aside from the very clever composition and idea there is a lot going on here. The teeth marks, the hunger, the bread of life and the foetal position of what looks like an adult form. Human life is reliant on nature and nurture, this is the bread of life. There is also a religious suggestion here with the use of bread.

Slabworks: (Images #10 & #11) Fourteen sculptures are distributed across the floor. It is not immediately obvious but these are geometric figures mimicking human gesture and behaviour. The sculptures themselves are simple yet very clearly considered as they work so well mirroring real life bodies.

This is without doubt the best exhibition I have seen all year and probably a record breaker for me too, as I seemed to have spent 1.5 hours here. It was a very busy and popular exhibition so I am clearly not alone in giving it the thumbs up.