Gormley exhibit brings blind fog back to London
The artist Antony Gormley unveiled his first London solo exhibition today, featuring a glass chamber which makes visitors disappear in the mist.
The installation is the highlight of Gormley’s Blind Light exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, which promises to be one of the major arts events of the summer, competing with the Tate Modern's giant slides.
Visitors who step inside the 8.5 x 10 metre (28ft x 33ft) box are enveloped in a cloud of damp fog so dense they can see only a few inches in front of their faces. The mist is bright white, thanks to the bank of fluorescent lighting overhead and the Turner Prize-winning artist says that it provokes a wide range of reactions ranging from anxiety to euphoria.
Gormley said today that visitors might experience extreme emotions.
“On the one hand, you have lost all sense of location - left/right, front/back. You immediately are lost in space and that makes you anxious," he said.
“But at the same time I think there is a sense of euphoria that you are almost free of the body whilst being returned to it in a new way.
“It’s a climatological experiment but also a sociological one. I don’t know how people will react to art of this kind. Light and water are two ingredients, but the third ingredient is the human content of the work and I will be interested to see how that evolves.”
Gormley has already dotted 31 of his trademark figures around London, life-sized sculptures cast from his own body that have been placed on rooftops and in pedestrian areas around the South Bank. The figures echo the mute men that stand around on Crosby Beach in another Gormley artwork.
Some vistors to the Blind Light exhibit may find the experience frightening or claustrophobic, as the chamber has only one small exit which is impossible to spot until you are inches away from it. A notice warns: “Visitors with asthma, claustrophobia or of a nervous disposition are advised to exercise caution when entering.”
“Didn’t Burke say, ‘there is no beauty without some terror in it’?” Gormley said. “But we have had three test groups in there and on the whole it has been euphoria, not panic. Usually you can hear laughter - sometimes nervous, but also joyful.
“I think regressive behaviour is normal. It’s similar to that sense of childlike delight you feel when you wake up in the morning and it’s snowing and all you want to do is go out and throw snowballs. You feel, ‘my goodness, this is my world but suddenly it has been transformed into something very different.”
Around 25 visitors at a time will be allowed to feel their way around the installation. Gormley said: “By the time you come across somebody, you are already well inside their ordinary zone of intimacy. That is quite intriguing to me. People react to each other in a different way in that environment.
“The most important thing for me is that it is a totally open work. There is no content other than what is brought by the viewer. The idea is to make no distinction between life and art.
“I have tried to make it as simple as possible. On one level it is the archetypical minimalist glass box, but there is a cloud of unknowing in it.”
The Blind Light exhibition, which includes dozens of other works from Gormley’s 25-year career, opens on Thursday and runs until August 19.