Transport by Antony Gormley

Antony Gormley

Transport, 2010, Iron nails, 210 x 63 x 43 cm, Canterbury Cathedral, England, © Antony Gormley; Photo courtesy of PA Images

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The Body as Temple

Commentary by

Antony Gormley is well known for his body cases, frequently moulded from his own body, cast in plaster, and then finished in lead, or sometimes in steel, or even in concrete. The body, he once averred, was a temple of being (Hutchinson 2000: 34).

These sculpted forms appear in various postures. Some of them are standing, some sitting, and others crouching, and each of these postures articulates a particular attitude. The Chronicles account of Solomon’s prayer at the Dedication of the Temple not only tells of the bronze platform that Solomon installed in the outer court, but also adds the detail that it was there that he knelt to pray (2 Chronicles 6:13). Both the location and posture recorded here point to the question of our place, or of how we occupy sacred space.  

Antony Gormley’s Transport is currently displayed in the Eastern Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, where the body of Thomas Becket was buried after his brutal murder in 1170. The outline shape of the sculpture is undoubtedly that of the human body, but it is not a cast. It is fabricated by 210 nails welded together, and so there is no ‘skin’. The sculpture is perceptually open, and the viewer can see the whole, both inside and outside. Transport seems to defy gravity as it is suspended from the vaulted ceiling by a single steel wire. Further, because of the natural airflow caused by the fluctuating temperature of the environment in which it is set, the sculpture is often seen to rotate slowly. This gentle motion and the passing of air through the sculpture evoke a living, ambulant body that in-breathes the very breath of life.

Visitors are often surprised to see a contemporary sculpture in this resonant space of the cathedral, and some may question its congruence in the space. But returning to the image of Solomon at prayer, a more critical question is how we place ourselves before God. Every living person is embodied, and as such occupies and moves through space. And when an embodied person occupies the place where prayer is offered, the physical body itself can become a ‘laboratory of the spirit’ and our bodily posture an expression of unarticulated prayer.

 

References

Hutchinson, John. 2000. ‘Return (The Turning Point)’, in Antony Gormley, ed. by John Hutchinson, et al (New York: Phaidon), pp. 32–95

 


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