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TEDGlobal 2012

Antony Gormley: Sculpted space, within and without

June 26, 2012

Legendary sculptor Antony Gormley riffs on space and the human form. His works explore the interior space we feel within our own bodies -- and the exterior space we feel around us, knowing that we are just dots in space and time.

Antony Gormley - Sculptor
Antony Gormley's work plays with the human form in space. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'm going to tell you about why I became a sculptor,
00:15
and you may think that sculptors,
00:20
well, they deal with meta, they deal with objects,
00:22
they deal with bodies,
00:27
but I think, really, what I care about most
00:30
is making space, and that's what I've called this talk:
00:34
Making Space.
00:39
Space that exists within us,
00:41
and without us.
00:46
So, when I was a child,
00:48
I don't know how many of you grew up in the '50s,
00:52
but I was sent upstairs for an enforced rest. (Laughter)
00:54
It's a really bad idea. I mean, after lunch, you're, you know,
00:59
you're six, and you want to go and climb a tree.
01:03
But I had to go upstairs, this tiny little room
01:06
that was actually made out of an old balcony,
01:07
so it was incredibly hot, small and light,
01:09
and I had to lie there. It was ridiculous.
01:14
But anyway, for some reason, I promised myself
01:18
that I wasn't going to move,
01:20
that I was going to do this thing that Mummy
01:23
wanted me to do.
01:25
And there I was, lying there in this tiny space,
01:27
hot, dark, claustrophobic, matchbox-sized, behind my eyes,
01:30
but it was really weird, like, after this went on
01:37
for days, weeks, months, that space would get bigger
01:41
and darker and cooler
01:47
until I really looked forward to that half an hour
01:51
of enforced immobility and rest,
01:56
and I really looked forward to going to that place
02:00
of darkness.
02:05
Do you mind if we do something completely different?
02:07
Can we all just close our eyes for a minute?
02:10
Now, this isn't going to be freaky.
02:12
It isn't some cultic thing. (Laughter)
02:13
It's just, it's just, I just would like us all to go there.
02:15
So I'm going to do it too. We'll all be there together.
02:18
So close your eyes for a minute.
02:20
Here we are, in a space,
02:24
the subjective, collective space of the darkness of the body.
02:27
I think of this as the place of imagination,
02:35
of potential,
02:39
but what are its qualities?
02:42
It is objectless. There are no things in it.
02:45
It is dimensionless. It is limitless.
02:50
It is endless.
02:56
Okay, open your eyes.
03:01
That's the space that I think sculpture --
03:03
which is a bit of a paradox, sculpture that is about
03:08
making material propositions --
03:11
but I think that's the space
03:14
that sculpture can connect us with.
03:16
So, imagine we're in the middle of America.
03:21
You're asleep. You wake up,
03:25
and without lifting your head from the earth
03:28
on your sleeping bag, you can see for 70 miles.
03:31
This is a dry lake bed.
03:37
I was young. I'd just finished art school.
03:40
I wanted to do something that was working
03:44
directly with the world, directly with place.
03:46
This was a wonderful place, because it was a place
03:52
where you could imagine that you were the
03:55
first person to be there.
03:57
It was a place where nothing very much had happened.
03:59
Anyway, bear with me.
04:04
I picked up a hand-sized stone,
04:07
threw it as far as I was able,
04:11
it was about 22 meters.
04:13
I then cleared all the stones within that radius
04:15
and made a pile.
04:22
And that was the pile, by the way.
04:25
And then, I stood on the pile,
04:28
and threw all of those rocks out again,
04:31
and here is rearranged desert.
04:35
You could say, well, it doesn't look very different
04:40
from when he started.
04:42
(Laughter)
04:44
What's all the fuss about?
04:46
In fact, Chris was worried and said,
04:47
"Look, don't show them that slide,
04:49
because they're just going to think you're another one of
04:50
those crazy modern artists who doesn't do much.
04:52
(Laughter)
04:55
But the fact is, this is evidence
04:57
of a living body on other bodies,
05:04
rocks that have been the subject of geological formation,
05:07
erosion, the action of time on objects.
05:13
This is a place, in a way, that I just
05:18
would like you to, in a way, look at differently
05:21
because of this event that has happened in it,
05:24
a human event,
05:28
and in general, it just asks us to look again
05:30
at this world, so different from, in a way,
05:33
the world that we have been sharing with each other,
05:36
the technological world,
05:39
to look again at the elemental world.
05:42
The elemental world that we all live in is that space
05:46
that we all visited together, the darkness of the body.
05:52
I wanted to start again with that environment,
05:57
the environment of the intimate, subjective space
06:00
that each of us lives in, but from the other side
06:04
of appearance.
06:08
So here is a daily activity of the studio.
06:10
You can see I don't do much. I'm just standing there,
06:13
again with my eyes closed, and other people
06:16
are molding me, evidential.
06:19
This is an indexical register of a lived moment
06:24
of a body in time.
06:27
Can we map that space, using the language of neutrinos
06:30
or cosmic rays, taking the bounding condition of the body
06:36
as its limit, but in complete reversal of, in a way,
06:41
the most traditional Greek idea of pointing?
06:46
In the old days they used to take a lump of Pentelic marble
06:49
and drill from the surface in order to identify the skin,
06:53
the appearance,
06:57
what Aristotle defined as the distinction
06:59
between substance and appearance,
07:02
the thing that makes things visible,
07:04
but here we're working from the other side.
07:07
Or can we do it as an exclusive membrane?
07:10
This is a lead case made around the space
07:14
that my body occupied, but it's now void.
07:20
This is a work called "Learning To See."
07:24
It's a bit of, well, we could call it night,
07:28
we could call it the 96 percent of gravity
07:34
that we don't know about, dark matter,
07:38
placed in space, anyway, another version of a human space
07:42
in space at large, but I don't know if you can see,
07:46
the eyes are indicated, they're closed.
07:48
It's called "Learning To See" because it's about an object
07:55
that hopefully works reflexively and talks about that
07:58
vision or connection with the darkness of the body
08:02
that I see as a space of potential.
08:06
Can we do it another way, using the language
08:11
of particles around a nucleus, and talk about the body
08:14
as an energy center?
08:17
No longer about statues, no longer having to take that
08:19
duty of standing, the standing of a human body,
08:22
or the standing of a statue, release it,
08:25
allow it to be an energy field, a space in space
08:29
that talks about human life, between becoming an entropy
08:33
as a sort of concentration of attention,
08:40
a human place of possibility in space at large.
08:45
Is there another way?
08:50
Dark matter now placed against a horizon.
08:53
If minds live in bodies, if bodies live in clothes,
08:59
and then in rooms, and then in buildings,
09:04
and then in cities, do they also have a final skin,
09:07
and is that skin perceptual?
09:12
The horizon.
09:15
And is art about
09:18
trying to imagine what lies beyond the horizon?
09:20
Can we use, in a way, a body as an empty catalyst
09:26
for a kind of empathy with the experience
09:35
of space-time as it is lived, as I am standing here
09:39
in front of you trying to feel and make a connection
09:45
in this space-time that we are sharing,
09:50
can we use, at it were, the memory of a body,
09:53
of a human space in space to catalyze
09:57
an experience, again, firsthand experience,
10:00
of elemental time.
10:04
Human time, industrial time, tested against
10:07
the time of the tides, in which these memories
10:11
of a particular body, that could be any body,
10:14
multiplied as in the time of mechanical reproduction,
10:19
many times, placed over three square miles,
10:24
a mile out to sea,
10:28
disappearing, in different conditions of day and night.
10:32
You can see this work. It's on the mouth of the Mersey,
10:36
just outside Liverpool.
10:40
And there you can see what a Liverpool sea looks like
10:43
on a typical afternoon.
10:46
The pieces appear and disappear,
10:49
but maybe more importantly --
10:52
this is just looking north from the center of the installation --
10:54
they create a field, a field that involves
10:58
living and the surrogate bodies in a kind of relation,
11:02
a relation with each other and a relation with that limit,
11:08
the edge, the horizon.
11:13
Just moving on, is it possible,
11:17
taking that idea of mind, body, body-building,
11:19
to supplant the first body,
11:24
the biological body, with the second,
11:27
the body of architecture and the built environment.
11:29
This is a work called "Room for the Great Australian Desert."
11:32
It's in an undefined location
11:37
and I've never published where it is.
11:38
It's an object for the mind.
11:41
I think of it as a 21st-century Buddha.
11:43
Again, the darkness of the body,
11:47
now held within this bunker shape
11:49
of the minimum position that a body needs to occupy,
11:52
a crouching body.
11:55
There's a hole at the anus, penis level.
11:57
There are holes at ears. There are no holes at the eyes.
12:00
There's a slot for the mouth. It's two and a half inches thick,
12:03
concrete with a void interior.
12:07
Again, a site found with a completely flat
12:10
360-degree horizon.
12:14
This is just simply asking, again,
12:18
as if we had arrived for the first time,
12:23
what is the relationship of the human project
12:27
to time and space?
12:32
Taking that idiom of, as it were,
12:36
the darkness of the body transferred to architecture,
12:39
can you use architectural space not for living
12:44
but as a metaphor,
12:48
and use its systolic, diastolic
12:49
smaller and larger spaces to provide a kind of
12:53
firsthand somatic narrative for a journey through space,
12:58
light and darkness?
13:04
This is a work of some proportion and some weight
13:07
that makes the body into a city, an aggregation of cells
13:13
that are all interconnected
13:17
and that allow certain visual access
13:20
at certain places.
13:25
The last work that I just wanted to share with you
13:27
is "Blind Light," which is perhaps
13:34
the most open work,
13:38
and in a conference of radical openness,
13:41
I think maybe this is as radical as I get,
13:43
using light and water vapor as my materials.
13:47
Here is a box
13:52
filled at one and a half atmospheres of atmospheric pressure,
13:54
with a cloud and with very bright light.
13:58
As you walk towards the ever-open threshold,
14:02
you disappear, both to yourselves and to others.
14:05
If you hold your hand out in front of you,
14:13
you can't see it.
14:15
If you look down, you can't see your feet.
14:17
You are now consciousness without an object,
14:20
freed from the dimensionful
14:27
and measured way in which life links us
14:31
to the obligatory.
14:37
But this is a space that is actually filled with people,
14:40
disembodied voices,
14:45
and out of that ambient environment,
14:47
when people come close to your own body zone,
14:51
very close, they appear to you as representations.
14:55
When they appear close to the edge,
14:59
they are representations, representations in which
15:01
the viewers have become the viewed.
15:06
For me, art is not about objects of high monetary exchange.
15:10
It's about reasserting our firsthand experience
15:16
in present time.
15:21
As John Cage said,
15:24
"We are not moving towards some kind of goal.
15:27
We are at the goal, and it is changing with us.
15:33
If art has any purpose, it is to open our eyes to that fact."
15:37
Thank you very much.
15:44
(Applause)
15:46
Translator:Joseph Geni
Reviewer:Morton Bast

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Antony Gormley - Sculptor
Antony Gormley's work plays with the human form in space.

Why you should listen

Antony Gormley's work places human forms into eye-opening new contexts, asking us to reconsider our own place in the world. In his 2007/2010 piece "Event Horizon," he placed several dozen life-size casts of his own body on urban rooftops, where they looked out over streets and squares. Does the viewer imagine herself watched by these looming figures--or imagine being one of them? More recently, his cast iron figures have been disseminated over 150 square km in the mountain pastures of the Austrian Alps, all standing at exactly 2039 meters of altitude. "They are a mediation between the domestication of the valleys and the idea of the peak,” Gormley said of the project, codenamed "Horizon Field." Or take his work "One & Other," in which he curated members of the public to stand on an elevated plinth over Trafalgar Square in London for one hour at a time, creating a constantly changing celebration of humanity.

This spring, he collaborated with the choreographer Hofesh Shechter to create the powerful "Survivor," a piece with hundreds of dancers moving their own forms through space and time.

The original video is available on TED.com
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