Most of us have heard of the internationally renowned sculptor, Antony Gormley, and his piece “The Angel of the North”. It was completed in 1998, and is a steel sculpture of an angel, 20 metres (66 ft) tall, with wings measuring 54 metres (177 ft) across and stands on a hill overlooking the A1 and A167 and the East Coast Main line. Well, he has an exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, London which ends on 3rd December. The human body is at the core of his wide ranging practice. He says that he sees the body as a vessel for feeling. I was there last Thursday and came away admiring his ingenuity and creativity but feeling myself not uplifted but somewhat downhearted and depressed.
I have been trying to understand why his sculptures evoke this reaction in me. In the notes on the exhibition it says that Gormley describes the body as; “a place of experience, emotion, consciousness, memory and imagination.” The first piece you see as you enter the courtyard in front of the Royal Academy is a small sculptor which is a life size form of a new-born baby made of solid iron. It is just lying on the pavement, lost and abandoned. Throughout the exhibition he depicts various forms of the body. One room is full of iron cast figures, some standing on the floor, others suspending from the ceiling and still others projecting out from the walls at different angles. I know Antony Gormley is trying to get us to reflect on ourselves, and the space we occupy but what I get from this is a deep sense of isolation, detachment and loss. We are relational beings and this sense of the need for companionship and the other is nowhere to be seen, experienced or hinted at. The medium he uses is iron and concrete that seems to emphasise hardness and coldness.
Perhaps my reaction to his art says more about me than about him. Our bodies are made for relationship and love. We experience this through family and friendship. The greatest act that we can be part of each week is the Eucharist, the Mass. We are called to come together to pray and listen and be fed. We become more closely the Body of Christ. Jesus shares his very self with us. When we receive the Host and the Chalice we hear the words: “The body of Christ, the Blood of Christ.” In faith we say “Amen” We are responding to the invitation to share in the ultimate act of love which is his death on the Cross and his resurrection. Our bodies are sacred and made in the image and likeness of God. When we receive communion we become what we eat. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. It means we need to look after our bodies, cherish and value them and therefore we treat each other as unique and special. Through the body we express love and kindness, compassion and service. We are relational beings not destined to live in isolation and loneliness.