Between Heaven and Earth

in Art/Latest/Spotlight

Little over a week to go and the extraordinary Gormley show at the Royal Academy will be over. Floating between heaven and earth, on the upper floors of the building, it throws you off balance, leading you into dark spaces, under a net of cages, overlooking a lake, the entirety of which you cannot see, making you question every step you take. How does the building not simply fall down under the weight of Cave? How does Host lap the walls without ruining them, are there actual living things in there? What is it that at once crushes you as you ramble under Matrix, its stark grey lines pinning you to the floor; and fills you with joy, as you spot the bright sky above when the cages thin away, letting light fall once more? It is your body that reacts to these works: Watch your step! This way please, Sir!

Find your way through Clearing VII, which is anything but…a cat’s cradle of aluminium tubing that the sculptor wanted you to swish your way through like a latter-day Sleeping Beauty prince through a forest of thorns, but Health & Safety stepped in to make sure we all go unscathed around the edge.  This tangle miraculously transforms into Co-Ordinate VI, a zip wire spanning four galleries: Taut, straight, pulled tight, tight above my head. I keep looking up for a high-wire artist but there is only us, gawpers, mingling below. We were all snarled up a minute ago, now we may be decapitated if it dips too low…it does not! What a relief… So ducking and diving, tracing and tracking, fumbling and foundering we make our way round, enthralled and physically touched by every piece. 

Matrix, hanging cryptic, mysterious, comes next: Lattice of cages to walk under. As you go beneath, the mesh feels as if it will press against you, print its webbing on your skin. The sky goes dark above your head, just endless fretwork hemming you in, caught in a spider’s web of steel, almost unbearable, as panic raises its fretful head you go on moving towards the light, the steel cells dwindle, slants of air ring your face, blue, even, can be seen. Sheer joy to glimpse it again, yes it is still there despite all! I stumble through the next few rooms relieved to see figures coming towards me off the gallery, humans on the floor, figures on the walls. I can cope with this; it is all much less alarming until I reach Cave.

Cave, a monumental rolled steel work, looks heavier than the very building itself, which, is holding which up? What if the whole thing collapses? I feel as light as dust, transparent almost, as I brush against its vast grey matter. Do I want to go in there? Fumble my way through? I cannot, as the queue is just too long, but I don’t mind: Gormley has subjected me to enough sensation for one day. I get the point and am glad to leave its vast overpowering structure behind to enter the Australian heat of drawings made in red, red earth.  From dark to light, here we go again.

I smell it first…Salty, brackish, hazy. An employee tells me visitors threw coins into Host and a ledge had to be put in to stop people from simply stepping into it.  Part ‘Wishing Well’, part primordial paddling pool for some. Bubbles fling upwards in Host as the light changes above, from a dark grey pall to a flash of sunlight, depending on time of day, weather. I want to see it in a thunderstorm…the drumming on the panes above, the bubbling in the water below, creating dark ripples in the grey. But I see it under the sun, in its ruddy beauty, standing behind a phalanx of viewers until I too stand at its very edge, feel profoundly disconcerted when I cannot see it all: It runs into the corners to hide, so, although I have a good view, two sections are beyond my visual reach. I can view it and I cannot…catch me if you can…

Well Mr Gormley, are you here somewhere? Watching us all contend with your works?  Making us feel off-balance, out of kilter, on the blink…Are you smiling as we wobble? Does our consternation please you? The artist of profound disquiet, now makes thousands queue for anxiousness. Or, have you forgotten all about it, onto the next thing, can’t even remember half the things in there? They exist simply, now it is up to us, the viewers, to make up our minds exactly how we react, contemplate, internalise and process. I admit to overwrought joy, something only certain Soviet filmmakers kindled in me, until now!