Zero to infinity
Antony Gormley: Clearing At White Cube Gallery, 48 Hoxton Square, London N1 until 29 May
To most of us 'zero' is the symbol of nothing, no thing, the absence of thing. It differs greatly from something, anything and everything. Its birth brought about modern mathematics and a new understanding of space and our position within it. So why has it taken 1994 Turner Prize winner, artist Antony Gormley, 10km of metal tubing to communicate this so apparently effortlessly?
Clearing 1, 2004, the main installation in the show, consists of 10km of black painted aluminium square section that occupies the ground floor of the 1920s industrial building-turned-Hoxton Square gallery designed by architect Mike Rundell. It is a modern-day version of Marcel Duchamp's contribution to the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in New York in 1942, where he unravelled a mile-long ball of string between all the works on show, obstructing the viewer's passage and view, literally making the exhibition itself the artwork.
Like a gigantic telephone-pad doodle of zero and infinity, it is a continuous line that curves from ceiling to floor and wall to wall, a three-dimensional erratic force field that has no focal point or obvious centre. Rods are tethered to each other, and in places to the gallery itself, in an attempt to hold the form as they overlap and criss-cross in a multi-directional flux. It's as if something is coming into being or beginning to develop.
'Kant insists that our experience of space is subjective. The way we deal with the endlessness of space is to project our own experience of space on to it, ' said Gormley while preparing his installation. It demands to be explored, and he encourages the viewer to enter into the vortex and move through it.
'You can see it as a drawing in space that you can either walk in or not walk in, ' adds Gormley, 'but I think the whole thing becomes more interesting when you do, as you make your own passage through. This is a space that has been energised by a single trajectory, this one line.'
For those who step or clamber inside, any Cartesian notion of a single-point perspective is dispelled. There is a sense of the chaotic and, paradoxically, the serene; a nervous state of weightlessness, as if at any moment the whole thing could release and break free, taking you with it. The work shudders, trembles and echoes, gently reverberating around the room, drawing lines that ebb and flow, in ever-continuing spirals.As the loose curves scrape over the pristine white walls of the gallery they leave the mark of their occupation, as if clawing at the extremities for escape.
These sinuous contours relate to the physicality of the artist's body as he and his technicians pulled and pushed the piece into shape. Gormley has often described his work as 'intimate architecture' and it is here, finally, that this becomes apparent, as he uses the scale of the gallery to maximum effect - perhaps a result of his colossal new studio, designed by David Chipperfield (AJ 18.3.04).
This exhibition is a new, relaxed and powerful departure for Gormley and by far his best work to date.
Neil Robert Wenman is art and architecture coordinator at the Lisson Gallery, London