ART / In the Studio: A voyage to Lilliput: Iain Gale on Antony Gormley's arresting body casts, and his conception of art as a healing force

Click to follow
In the high white space of his Peckham studio, Antony Gormley's metal men contemplate their creator. The artist, passing between them, merges into his work. It's hardly surprising: for 14 years Gormley has made his own body almost the sole subject. Having been wrapped in plaster-soaked cloth, he is cut from the dried mould which is then re-assembled and covered with a welded lead skin. It's not portraiture, but an attempt to address Everyman in the language of his own form.

Only for his recent Liverpool show did he temporarily abandon the use of his own body, to create Field. Inspired by Man Asleep - his 1985 piece in which a lead man was surrounded, like Gulliver, by tiny figures - Gormley filled a room with thousands of small clay creatures. 'Field puts the viewer in the position of Man Asleep's sleeper and then wakes him up. The viewer becomes the focus.'

Now, returning to his original format, Gormley finds his use of the body cast has changed. 'The new pieces are completely different. I'm being more honest. They are about the feeling of a body at rest, when it's not clear whether it's sleeping or dead. It's like when you walk into a room and your friend - or wife - is sleeping. There's a sense that you're invading another's presence and yet, because they're not conscious, you take on their silence. There's also a feeling of astral flying. Looking down on a body that could be your own and discovering what your relationship with it is.'

To encounter Gormley's work is to take part in it. He wants to involve people, and to do this he plans to show versions of Field around the world. 'It's migrating across national borders; expressing the idea of a shared world in places where there's rampant nationalism.' Currently in Ljubljana, in the former Yugoslavia, the European version of Field is headed for Zagreb. Gormley had intended to take it to Sarajevo, but was refused permission by the Foreign Office. 'They said it was immoral to take art when what was needed was food. That's a very limited view of what is necessary for the spirit. At times of discord art has a healing role.'

This desire to heal informs all of Gormley's recent work. He believes the world can only be healed by understanding our mortality. 'I want people to be conscious that what they're doing now might be the last thing they ever do,' he says. 'I'm not a moralist but I am interested in the relationship between individual action and the planet's future. That's the greatest challenge we all face.'

Antony Gormley's most recent work is at White Cube, 44 Duke St, London SW1 (071-930 5373), to 7 May. 'Field' is at Museum of Modern Art, Dublin to 19 June

(Photograph omitted)

Comments