A small selection of photographs I took in Florence over the weekend at the incredible Antony Gormley show, HUMAN, at the Forte Belvedere. Gormley’s work by its materiality is about interior and exterior, protection and resilience, the idea of the individual and of the collective. This show, putting over 100 of his bodyforms on display across the vast, and at times bleak, expanse of the fort, hums with the brilliant logic of the pairing of these artworks and this location. I have spent much of this year exploring Gormley’s works, one of which, Earthbound Plant (2002), was the subject of a short dissertation I wrote at Cambridge in May. His survey show at the Hayward Gallery in 2007 was one of my most memorable art experiences, and HUMAN was equally a pilgrimage worth making.

The challenge with Gormley’s works is perhaps largely to do with the surface quality rather than the literal contortion of his own body into shapes which are then translated into metal. The consistently raw planes instil a kind of vulnerability in the sculptures, which jars with their physicality. These works are incredibly heavy, tightly welded or cast as a whole, and thus should be completely impermeable to any outside threat. Yet they also seem defenceless, and even in groups they stand solitary.

Gormley said in 1988, “the immediate area around the work is just as important as the work itself”, echoing the likes of Donald Judd, and these bodyforms – placed and then abandoned – seem symbiotically related to the worn and decaying architecture of the fort. A focus of my dissertation was the idea of the ‘subjected object’, which Gormley achieved by physically imprisoning Earthbound Plant beneath the pavement of a Cambridge faculty concourse. In Florence, the works are stationed in a structure conceived for protection, yet they are placed in vast expanses of unguarded space, or sit cowering in the corner of a room. The machine-like chemical treatments of the surfaces are perhaps here akin to weaponry that might have originally been stationed around the fort, but rather than serve a purpose, the sculptures are passive and functionless. Gormley’s forms are impersonal and cold, yet the placement of them affords a certain humanity – a notion he is surely trying to address in a show titled HUMAN. I certainly remain as convinced by his vision as I did in 2007 at Blind Light. The show is on until 27th September.

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A couple of days ago I suddenly remembered seeing this incredibly eerie installation by Pierre Huyghe at Hauser & Wirth last year, and decided to track down the photos I took. The typically clinical Hauser & Wirth space discharged a damp and noxious air, brought upon by the elevated tanks containing post-human ecosystems which flickered sporadically under suspended lightboxes. A fluorescent strip light hung over the form of a reclining nude trapped in rock, which seemed overgrown with a parasitic natural product somewhere between algae and lichen. The tanks were home to bizarre plant forms and puny fish which Huyghe inferred were somehow able to survive even in the most toxic conditions. I guess it isn’t unusual to see a comment on environmental deterioration in contemporary art, but this show certainly resonated more so with me. The fact that Huyghe managed to make it beguilingly beautiful was perhaps even more unsettling.

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