Antony gormley explores body politics through concrete sculpture exhibition at white cube

Designboom_ From 22 November 2023, to 28 January 2024, the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, London, presents Antony Gormley’s sculptural exhibition titled Body Politic. The show features several bodies of work, including a selection of sculptures cast to the scale of the artist’s body in reinforced concrete. Collectively, the pieces capture a range of body postures, displaying balance, compression, and tension. Notably, small square orifices at the mouth position allow visual access to a body-sized void within.

The show seeks to investigate our species’ relationship with its industrially made habitat. For Gormley, this comes at an urgent moment in time when our need for refuge is in dynamic tension with our need to roam: our fundamental migratory nature.

Serving as the backbone of the exhibition, eight concrete sculptures follow a linear path from the courtyard through the corridor at the White Cube Gallery . Crafted by Antony Gormley as ‘intimate bunkers for one,’ each version of Retreat (2022–23) is molded to the artist’s body scale using 55 mm thick reinforced concrete.

‘The only place where we can find true freedom is within the infinite darkness of the body available to us once the body is still,’ Gormley shares.‘These works both evoke and embody the space that we all enter the moment we close our eyes. I consider this the most pertinent and potent space of personal freedom and these works celebrate it.’

Introducing a grounded counterpart to Retreat, Gormley’s Resting Place (2023) unfolds in the expansive South Gallery II, forming a dense urban landscape. This installation consists of fired clay blocks that manifest 244 body forms, creating a labyrinthine terrain. Visitors are encouraged to navigate this maze of resting bodies, depicting various poses from prone and splayed to fetal, allowing just enough space for passage. The scenes evoke a spectrum of scenarios, from bodies abandoned on the beach to the struggles of those forcibly displaced by conflicts, climate change, or resource scarcity.

In the North Gallery, a series of six ‘Weave Works’ intricately map the volume of the human body. Constructed from orthogonal, latticed cast iron bars and exposed to the elements, these rusted sculptures permit space and light to filter through, generating an illusion of shifting density that bridges sculptural and architectural space. Departing from the conventional freestanding nature of sculptures, three of the works in Test (2021–23) lean against the gallery walls, while the other three touch them, involving the room as an integral part of the artwork and prompting visitors to consider their position and movement within the space.

In South Gallery I, three robust bands of rolled black steel extend from the floor, ceiling, and walls, converging at the room’s center to form a complex network of orthogonal lines, creating a dynamic body zone. Similar to Test, Bind (2023) activates and is activated by the surrounding architecture. Viewers are encouraged to maneuver around this three-dimensional drawing, engaging with its intricate spatial dynamics. The final piece, Stand (2023), situated in the 9x9x9 gallery, consists of a Jenga-like stack of Corten steel beams, reaching a height of nearly 5 meters. This sculpture acknowledges the inherent entropy in its construction, celebrating both the vulnerability of man-made creations and sculpture’s potential to evoke both hope and fear.

Navigating the delicate balance between sanctuary and control, freedom and discipline, ‘Body Politic’ leverages sculpture’s intrinsic qualities—silence, stillness, and materiality—to heighten visitors’ awareness of their own freedoms of movement and thought.