Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Bodybuilding

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Bodybuilding

Article excerpt

This essay was written as a catalogue essay to accompany Antony Gormley's exhibition Expansion Field at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Switzerland in 2014 (published by Zentrum Paul Klee and Hatje Cantz). The question of how we speak about artworks connects to the question of how they speak to us: how can a thing--a hunk of inert, inanimate matter--make a claim on us, when does a mute object begin to call upon us, how does it activate our senses and feelings, and why does it provoke our sociability in the way it does? Why does a mute object make us want to talk so much, and how can a lifeless object induce the feeling that we ourselves are somehow more alive for being in its vicinity? Comay's essay connects these questions with an investigation of the basic ontology and logic of Gormley's sculpture: the question of imprint and reprint, where Gormley captures a singular pocket of lived time and space in a receptive medium which forms an infinitely repeatable mould.

There are no wall texts in Expansion Field--no map, no signage, no words in sight. And that's a nice touch, if only because it blocks the nervous shuttling from pillar to post, from work to caption--the hypnotic tug of title, description, explanation, interpretation that can be so blinding in every museum. Who hasn't had that sinking feeling upon leaving an exhibition of having spent more time in the gallery reading than actually seeing? Antony Gormley's decision to withhold textual apparatus might forestall death by caption--the avalanche of language that can so easily smother a work by turning it into an illustration, allegory, manifesto, message from the beyond--what Robert Morris once described, in his own somewhat suffocating language, as the "tangled, suffocating shroud of seething words" (qtd. in Mitchell 62). (1) Words can compensate for the distance of the thing and they can tame its strangeness-they can at once bring the object closer and keep its intrusiveness at bay--but they can in turn produce their own distancing and stifling effect. (2)

This touches on a question that Gormley's work makes particularly vivid, and not only because by now there's such an enormous nimbus of commentary collecting around the corpus: there are already dozens of catalogues, essays, monographs, artist's statements, and endless recorded interviews, television appearances, and lectures by Gormley himself, who is more explicit and articulate than anyone about his own work, and almost as prolific with words as he is with lead and iron. His website is prodigious, exquisitely organized, every project gorgeously documented and annotated, the bibliography ever-swelling, and you can spend all day, every day, living in this ever-expanding virtual universe, as I've been doing these past few months, without being certain that you're ever getting any closer to the work itself. This isn't just because it's at once so obdurately physical and yet so ephemeral, impossible not to notice when you run into it and yet gone forever once the show's over--popping up unexpectedly on remote mountain tops, in distant deserts, on beaches, in fjords, in unusual urban settings (also, it is true, in museums, but rarely permanently and always in peculiar ways), and just as suddenly disappearing, leaving its indelible footprints everywhere, if only in the collective memory and in the swelling archive of photography, rumour, reportage, and documentation: this spot on the bridge, that busy intersection, this alleyway, this rooftop, that corridor, this flooded crypt, that window ledge perched high above the traffic of downtown Manhattan (Figures 1-4). There's an oddly impinging and yet constantly receding aspect of the work, connected to its strange theatricality, and the proliferating stream of commentary both relieves and anxiously underscores this looming physicality.

The question of how we speak about artworks connects to the question of how they speak to us: how can a thing--a hunk of inert, inanimate matter--make a claim on us, when does a mute object begin to call upon us, how does it activate our senses and feelings, why does it provoke our sociability in the way it does? …

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