Let’s imagine a city as a human body and sculptures erected in different spots of the city as acupuncture needles stimulating the body’s reflective responses. This is probably an imaginative picture British artist Antony Gormley would like to bring to the city dwellers through his controversial installation project Event Horizon in Hong Kong over the six months from November 2015 after touring London, Rotterdam, New York, São Paulo and Rio di Janeiro.
An Experiment of Cultural Acupuncture
31 life-size body sculptures cast from the body of the artist himself stand on top of prominent buildings and on busy pavements in Central and Western districts of Hong Kong. While some people relate the project to suicide attempts and many make funny poses next to those anatomically correct male bodies at the street level, the artist has a bigger message for us – What am I doing in this world and what is this world anyway? For those of us who have been living in the city for long, we should have witnessed that concrete and glass seem to have replaced a common space in which people lived all aspects of their lives face to face. The physical and psychological isolation and boundaries in the urban environment, together with the abstract corporate and capital values it contains, have taken away our ability to communicate to others our intense and individual experiences towards our inner selves and surroundings. Gormley attempts to reignite our senses through this visionary project. He uses the body sculptures, placed at unusual spots of the Hong Kong skyline, to invite us to observe our own experience, a sense of connection with the horizon and with space at large, within the reality of daily routines. Gormley refers the installations as cultural acupuncture – the sculptures act like 31 needles going into various parts of the collective body. It is an experiment to see what kind of responses and energies each one elicits. It is about a celebration of life and an attempt to consider what the identity and subjective voice of Hong Kong is.
Sculpture as a Tool for Mindfulness
“We exist in space, but space also exists in us.” Gormley uses sculpture as a tool for mindfulness. The weighty figures are human spaces that displace space at large by their mass. He projects them as “black holes in human form, dark silhouettes against the sky, which the built environment that surrounds them is the thing that becomes the foreground”. City is not the only field that Gormley’s investigation of the relationship of the human body to space takes place. In Horizon Field (2010-12) the artist placed 100 figures of his body spreading across an area of 150 km2 in the snowy Alps in Austria. He created a horizon located at 2,039 m above sea level to provide us with a new perspective on bodies in space. The works form a field in which living bodies and active minds (skiers and hikers alike) are involved in measuring the space and distance through the field of these static iron bodies. For Gormley, the dark masses against the white snow are indications of absence; places where a man once stood and anyone could stand. He reverses the usual conditions of sculptures: stillness, silence and inertia and, instead, attempts to highlight free movement, creating new relationships between its context and the internal conditions of the viewer.
The Test of Time and Space
Time and space are other elements Gormley is keen to explore in his landscape installation projects. Archaeological sites and open seas are some of the interesting locations Gormley chose to experiment the relationship between time and space. The Roman Forum in southern Italy dating from about 130 AD was the field for Time Horizon (2006) where 100 life-size body figures were distributed all over the 40-hectare site. Some were buried up to their necks while others were on plinths in the deepest part of the site and every level in between. The arrangement offered a way in which the trajectory of time could be felt physically.
In Another Place (1997) the body figures were immersed in the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea) in Germany. As with Time Horizon the viewer is implicated in a field effect, but here the rising tide replaces the earth level. With every tide the bodies were obscured, they disappeared under the surface. It is the disappearance and reappearance of the bodies between the tides that tests human time against planetary time.
Liberating Art to Serve a Social Role
“My faith is that art becomes an increasingly important testing ground, free of control and ideology, in which we can examine ourselves and our needs, desires and dreams.” Gormley believes art has to be released from both the institutionalizing effects of the museum and from the commodifying effects of the market. He demonstrates to us art is a basic human activity that makes us human and offers us the tools to become ourselves. By bringing art to our daily life with his life-size “needles”, this philosophical artist heals human vulnerability and raises collective consciousness in a city. Not only does he activate our connection to our souls lost in the lure of false desires and the promise of objects of consumption and power, but also reminds us of the intrinsic sense of being and our intimate relationship with the city we call home.