Home of the Heart II by Antony Gormley

Antony Gormley

Home of the Heart II, 1992, Concrete, 85 x 36 x 49 cm, © Antony Gormley; Photo courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery

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The Burden of Flesh

Commentary by

Antony Gormley’s Home of the Heart II helps us consider Moses’s complaint (Numbers 11:10–17; 24–30) about his task to ‘carry[…]this people alone’ (v.14).

Gormley’s sculpture is part of a series in which concrete blocks upon closer inspection reveal carefully placed holes through which the head and limbs of a body might pass.

Two aspects of this work help illuminate our text.

First, it contrasts the weightlessness of the body-shaped ‘interior’ with the heaviness of the block ‘containing’ it. Moses needs help in ‘lifting’ his ‘burden’ (vv. 11, 14, 17), and this sculpture can be read as a visualization of the demands of embodied life. Embodied humans have wants, desires, and needs—these all on a daily basis.

This sense of bodily burden can be additionally intense for those who, like Moses, are ‘caretakers’ of their fellow human beings: those with duties of protection and pastoral care. For them even more than for others, life can feel like being encased in a concrete block, not just of one’s own bodily needs but of others’ as well.

In addition to the weightiness of physical burdens, this sculpture captures the depth of Moses’s psychological state too. He has nothing left; he is, emotionally, ‘flat on his back’. Although Moses’s emotional burden is featured in other stories about him (cf. Deuteronomy 1:9–18; Exodus 18:13–27), only here is Moses in utter despair—to the point where he wishes to die (v.15; cf. 1 Kings 19:4). Under the weight of his current life, Moses just wants to lie down, forever. Some have thought this culpable, but Martin Luther displays the sympathy of a fellow pastor: ‘[O]nly speculative theologians’ would condemn him (Luther 1967: 30–31).

The supine state of Gormley’s block is all the more poignant when one also considers the threat that Moses’s death poses to the people he leads. If Moses dies, does their access to the word of God die with him? His personal cry for death signals a corporate cry of crisis.

Yet this cry will not be the end of the story, and Moses’s unique apprehension of the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 34) will be carried forward to generation after generation—we are as much his audience as those he led through the wilderness. The particular, spiritual ‘holes’ in Moses’s particular, fleshly ‘block’ will be addressed by God’s particular, spiritual gift.

 

References

Luther, Martin. 1967. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. and trans. by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress)


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