IN GROUND, VOORLINDEN INVITES YOU the viewer TO BECOME THE SUBJECT
In Antony Gormley’s own words; “Without the viewer, there is no show, without the gallery there is no context.
Numéro had the pleasure of seeing firsthand how Antony Gormley’s (1950) GROUND has taken over the museum and its surroundings. GROUND illustrates what Gormley’s work is about: He takes the human body as his subject, which he sees as the place of potential.” GROUND invites you to wander past works from Gormley’s entire career, from his early lead sculptures to new installations created just for Voorlinden. The exhibition is an open invitation to explore art like never before. GROUND allows you to be physically and mentally stimulated by the sculptures by walking through, inside, and all over them.
To understand more of its context and see what the show is all about we spoke with Barbara Bos – head of exhibitions Voorlinden, who worked closely with Antony on this exhibition for more than 2 years. As the cherry on top, we were given a one-of-a-kind experience to be guided by Anthony Gormley himself as he explained his work, and shared his knowledge throughout the entire exhibition.
What is the main message of the exhibition?
The show revolves around something that we seem to have forgotten. Living with a pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and climate change has made us realize more than ever that we are human and that we need our bodies. Our bodies are the foundation of who we are: They are our tools for feeling, expressing ourselves, understanding, and navigating the world. Somewhere along the line, living in our society we seemed to have lost touch with this. We drifted away from that what was the core, away from that what makes us human. Antony’s work goes back to our core. It centers around the physicality to which we all can relate.
What motivated you and Voorlinden to showcase this exhibition now? Does the time we live in create extra urgency for GROUND?
GROUND was almost ready to put on show before Covid hit nearly two years ago. What is so special about this is that we did not change the content; only the context and time changed, creating a sense of urgency. Now, we relate differently to the works, for example when walking into the estate and being confronted with these bodies laying down there, we seem to understand the vulnerability of our own bodies, now more than ever. We are going back to our core, the feeling of vulnerability that lies there, what you feel when walking around the show. This is why he is such a great and influential artist. For decades, he has been thinking about, writing about, and translating these notions into works. Gormley is reopening our eyes to what our roles and responsibilities are. “The biggest challenge of our species’ success is actually to relearn our embeddedness within the biosphere.”
The common ground between viewers according to Gormley is the fact that we all live in the darkness of our own bodies. How does GROUND invite the viewer to see that space within us and without us?
The works invite you to understand the concept of darkness, which Gormley refers to a lot. This essence was also well thought of in the exhibition’s structure, with the most important aspect being how the visitor wanders through it. The pieces progress from being very figurative to abstract, referring to your own body, relating to space, and then back to being vulnerable with small works, expanding again as you continue the path. This entire journey of going outside and in, with a few works asking you to truly understand the idea of darkness, allows the viewer to experience varieties of feelings.
An important piece is Passage (2016); passing through it can be an emotional experience, as Antony puts it: “You can walk along the line, face this shadow that is yours that you are projecting traveling down the line. Some people don’t make it till the end. I suppose this is a metaphor for many things, but most importantly, it is an experience that confronts every individual with their own comfort zone. It faces them with their feeling of vulnerability, and this is why you should try it.” Antony embraces the idea that the dark is a constructive area that allows everything to just be and can offer a realm of imagination with no boundaries.
Could you say that the works activate us to see the body as a place of imagination?
We structured the exhibition in a way where it questions the viewer constantly: How do I navigate through a space, how do these spaces dictate our path and how do I behave in such a space? We ask viewers not to read about the exhibition before because we really want to invite their own imagination, as this is a very important part of GROUND. Many people believe that to understand art, you should know everything about it. But Antony uses art to create things that give us a better understanding, he does it in a way that everyone can relate to it. Because you are the subject.
In Anthony’s own words; “I want to use sculpture to think again about the human condition, and I introduce it by just saying; where do we all live? What can we be certain as individuals of?; Well that we live in a body! That is our first habitat. To me, we are using this exhibition as a test site of what art can do, how can it do it, who can it do it for, who can it represent and, how can it work?” He invites us to experience it.
Young people are often wrapped up in a search for their own identity and how they will find their own ground. Do you feel like walking around this exhibition can raise questions for them, or maybe even give them time to reflect on matters in a way they cannot in their busy day-to-day lives?
We hope that the exhibition allows you as a young person, not to be lost, but to be spoken to by many works. For example; Amazonian field (1992) this work confronts the viewer. It changes the usual relation between the viewer and the art object. The art object occupies the display space, and we, the viewers, have walked onto the stage. It’s actually a crowd talking to you. “These small little creatures are asking us; what type of world are you making?” says Antony. There is a sense of urgency in this work: It makes us realize that we are a collective, a group of individuals and that we must work together to create the future. He is using fundamental concepts, and this I find admirable about good artists: They strive to explain these concepts with visual language, which can be quite powerful. This is a way for us to understand the world.
Voorlinden is a space where everyone is welcome and where you don’t need to know anything about art to feel at home. Here you can let your eyes wander, and see what happens. We offer a place for contemplation. Leave the stress of city life, and everything you want to be a part of behind. Here at Voorlinden, you reconnect to nature to understand how essential it is in our lives that we relate to our surroundings. Antony is very much into details, as are we. We want people to go back home with a smile, with a lot of thoughts/feelings, and memories they can take with them. That is important.
Thank you to Voorlinden and, in particular, Barbara Bos (head of exhibitions) for introducing us to GROUND and answering our questions. Of course, a special thank you to Antony Gormley for walking us around the show and sharing all of your thoughts and wisdom with us. GROUND will be on display in Voorlinden from May 26 to September 25, 2022.
To conclude, personally, I (the writer of this piece) would like to repeat Antony’s words after the tour, which were quite striking to me. He tells young people with doubt and fear of the future the following; “Use your doubt, anxiety, and fear to make something out of it! I believe that is what my work is about; once you deal with it and make something of it, the negativity begins to go away. Making art, or making anything really, like making your bed in the morning or making breakfast, is an act of hope, it is about believing that there is a future.”
“We as humans have to make things, and bodies are the most important thing we are making. We are making a self, a value system, that is a big job. It takes courage and originality, and a lot of work. Everyone is making a self, creating a future, and therefore also a collective future. I think politics and the economy have both failed us in giving us a coordinated sustainable life, that’s why the job is ours to say. Think about things, through this work, proves that space of art is so important.”
Words by Aïcha Pilmeyer
Picture used as header on the left;
Breathing Room III, 2010
Collection Voorlinden, Wassenaar
Photograph: Antoine van Kaam
© Antony Gormley 2022. All rights reserved