Summer of Utopia: Antony Gormley

On the north-west corner of Trafalger Square in London lies a structure simply coined the Fourth Plinth. Originally designed in 1841 by Sir Charles Barry, the massive pedestal was intended to display an equestrian statue, but the sculpture was never finished due to a lack of funds. Since the late nineties, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts has commissioned several sculptural works for the Fourth Plinth including works from Marc Quinn to Rachel Whiteread.

Last summer, British artist Antony Gormley was also invited to complete a project utilizing the Fourth Plinth. Instead of creating a static sculptural form to sit elevated on a pedestal before the city, the artist took a risky move to randomly invite 2,400 people to occupy the structure for a period of one hour, twenty four hours a day for a total of 100 days. Titled One & Other, the pieced allowed each person that inhabited the plinth to become the work of art,  leveling any hierarchy that defines who should be represented in a work of art. Each attendee occupied the structure alone, but was allowed to do anything they like for the hour, providing that it is legal in the UK.

For a brief period, participants could address the world at large and speak to any issue that is of concern to them.  Certainly a momentary equality of voice doesn’t exactly elicit the illusions of grandeur that are usually associated with political or societal utopias, but the ability to speak openly to an audience about an idea or issue that you are invested in without consequence is certainly the first step to identifying a common ideal. To further extend the impact and reach of each participants voice, every minute of the 100 day project was streamed live over the internet and then archived for indefinite public access.

However, Gormley’s work isn’t just interested in the idea of or struggle for utopia in relation to society, politics or even a specific place. Most often the work quietly references the notion of balance and harmony as a state of being. Gormley’s training in archaeology, anthropology and art history at Cambridge University, mixed with years of practice with Buddhist meditation in India and Sri Lanka has positioned him in a unique place to express the experience of inner balance to a greater audience though the language of visual art. When describing the material usage for the majority of his figurative sculptures, the artist will state air as a fundamental material. This is because Gormley is as interested in the inner ‘space’ of his forms as he is the ‘outer space’ that the form itself occupies.

For his first US public art project, the artist is presenting Event Horizon, a current project that includes 31 life-sized figures cast in iron and bronze modeled form the artist’s own body and now populate Madison Square Park and rooftops throughout New York’s Flatiron District. In an area that is vibrant, hectic and anything but still and quiet, these forms serve as a reminder of the balance and utopia that can be obtained inwardly even in the most chaotic of locations. However, this reminder often happens in an abrupt and oddly irritating way. In a recent interview with the New York Times, the artist addressed this notion stating, “You could almost say the insertion of the sculpture is like the insertion of acupuncture needles within a collective body. And seeing how the body as a whole reacts to the presence of this irritation is very much the point.”