Anthony Gormley: Two States

20 Dec

You come in from the privileged vistas on the terrace at the back of Harewood house, through a small arch and into a rectangular white walled gallery.

The ritual space is charged. The tension of the massive architecture presses down on the smooth rounded pillars. We are under a wealth of West Indian sugar, a sub-hall beneath a sweet pile of grandeur from the 18th Century. Children have played here. Wet dogs and muddy boots, now clean but still echoing. Servants have walked through, maybe slaves?

 

And yet this place doesn’t hold the irony of Shelley’s Ozymandias – that collapsed power in the sand. Here it is “look on my works and celebrate”. The Imperial power has surrendered slowly and gently. Out of the sands of the Empire emerge two rusty sentinels. They confront each other respectfully, they recognize their long term decay, they know they will stand for generations before their blocks are broken into the archives of future archaeologists. They are not two states, but one pulsing circuit, carefully balanced magnets in the field of presence.

 

Anthony Gormley’s work is, like all effective sculpture, about the fine art and craft of tension, the dichotomies within the material, and the relationship of the finished piece to the environment within which it dwells. The ‘Two States’ are not the two figures, but the historical states of the past and the historical states of the present. The stately home and the post-stately guests. Here there is a state of rusty angular blocks, there, at each corner is the state of round pillared stone. The figures are calm, reflective, introvert, contained. The doric columns are proud, reaching up, extrovert, muscular.

 

Gormley’s work is modernist. In this work the cubism could be criticised for being too literal. I prefer to think of it as a generous cubism. Although on-guard, these two figures are welcoming. All they ask is a certain respect. A longer look does lead to deeper questions. Where did the muscles go? This is a state of structural integrity, a built-up-from-the-ground struggle with gravity. This is abstract bone-work, spinal developmentalism. And therefore human.

 

A what is common to both states? Dignity. Somehow we stand tall, despite the balancing act of boxes that we are. We look more like these sculptures than we might initially think. Our blood is ferrous. We will one day rust. We will come to see ourselves across the room. We might realise that life has been held up for us: there are pillars in place, built by others, maybe polished by us, maybe maintained, but generally unnoticed.

 

This is how we stand, without plinth or platform. This is how we are, stripped back beneath the skin and bone, vertically vulnerable. In this room we are pared down to lintels, lines and invisible ligaments. Our body-room is one of compression and load-bearing.

 

We enter and leave in different states.

%d bloggers like this: