Street. Art.

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Hatch (2007)

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

A recurring theme in Gormley's work is the notion of the (surveillant) gaze, which makes sense given his interest in the body and the architecture of the city. The gaze is nowhere more apparent than in one of his most recent sculptures, Hatch. Because of the nature of the work, only two people were allowed at a time to be inside the room that constituted the field of the work itself. (This generated the contemporary form of the queue in which nobody is quite certain why one is queueing — the queue "legitimizes" the work in and of itself.) Because of the long queue, people were very curious and keen to get a glance at what lay inside the room.

Hatch - Courtesy of Antony Gormley

This was accomplished via the grid-like meshwork of square holes that studded the walls to allow light inside. Some of these squares extended right into the room by means of aluminum endoscopic tubes — instruments used for surgically looking deep within a body — constituting another version of the panoptic city. In this I was reminded of Virilio's "vision machine" and the "endocolonization" of the animal and social bodies.

But these holes and tubes also allow for those within to see outside, a point made abundantly clear to me when I overheard the woman ahead in the queue, after looking in to see an eyeball peering back, remarked "How dare they look back at us?"

Peer, indeed.

Not wanting to wait in the queue, some people simply walked to the doorway and looked in, but that completely misses the point of the work: at its core, Hatch is a bodily experience, a field in which one must duck, straddle, circumvent and collide with the irregular-length endoscopic tubes as they poke out of the floor, walls and ceiling.

As with many cityscapes, however, this one is not equally accessible, as a sign outside the room pointed out: "We advise that for children and wheelchair users this work is best viewed from outside."

So while Gormley problematizes the surveillance/sousveillance binary in this work, he also (perhaps unintentionally) problematizes dis/ability and the way an "ideal" body might move through the city.

Bonne Fete


[Aside] Once again, a year has passed and that means it is time to reflect (from Paris!!) on what I have "accomplished" here at sportsBabel. And that means a quick list of some of the ideas I was most fond of, from a thought process described as "sort of like a popcorn machine" (thanks Lex).

Ten posts, in no particular order:

  1. Interactive Waste Disposal
  2. Towards the Invisibility of Cameras
  3. Guilty By Association
  4. Central Intelligence
  5. The Control Room
  7. Lightness and the Tactile Burden
  8. The Authentic Hologram
  9. Body Treble
  10. Production Schedules

I began my doctoral studies in November at the European Graduate School, which clearly had a substantial influence on my work here at sportsBabel, as I was exposed to many new ideas and theories, perhaps most notably the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (and through them a further development of my reading of Deleuze and Guattari). Stalwarts of this blog such as Virilio and Baudrillard also continued to be of significance; sadly, we mourned the latter's passing this past spring.

But even more than these thinkers new and old, I am indebted to my colleagues at EGS for their contributions to my transformation and growth over the past year. An Elegy (for Saas-Fee) is written in their honour, and I look forward to seeing them again in only ten short months.


Allotment II (1996)

<!–a series on antony gormley and the origin of "tactile burden", in no particular order–>

Gormley is interested in two primary forms in his work: the human body and the architecture of the city. For him, "the body is our first habitation, the building our second."

We see both of these interests investigated in Allotment II, a composite installation in which 300 life-size concrete elements were derived from the dimensions of local inhabitants of Malmö, Sweden aged 1.5-80 years. 15 precise measurements were taken and used to construct 5cm-thick rectangular concrete body cases, with integrated rectangular head cases, and apertures at the mouth, ears, anus and genitals. The apertures were all precisely placed from the measurements taken. Once made, the pieces were installed in such a way as to compose a surrogate cityscape, with the "bodies" facing in all directions.

Allotment II - Courtesy of Antony Gormley

Engaging the Allotment II exhibit was an interesting experience. The "city" is laid out in such a way that it operates more or less as a rational grid network of traffic. But not all street sizes are the same: there are wide boulevards and plazas as well as tight avenues and alleyways. Does the viewer take the path of least resistance through the cityscape, or does one venture off the proverbial beaten path? Watching the gallery visitors interact with the city and with each other, transforming it into a social space — running, laughing, congregating, chatting — became very compelling for the (anthropological) I/eye.

Of course, like any city this one has its police force, constantly surveying, telling people not to touch the (solid concrete!) sculptures, monitoring flow.

This gaze of authority makes for an interesting play with the buildings themselves. While each had a measured aperture for mouth, ears (tapered inwards to channel sound), anus and genitals (both tapered downwards to excrete waste), the absence of holes for eyes was somewhat terrifying. If each concrete building "represents the smallest space capable of sheltering a particular human being," it is a space in which the gaze acts in an asymmetrical fashion, or perhaps one in which only electromagnetic imagery may pass through the density of the concrete boundaries to the space within.

Antony Gormley and the Origin of "Tactile Burden"

"Sculpture knows what it lacks. It wants mobility and consciousness."

These words from renowned British sculptor Antony Gormley are particularly relevant to my work here at sportsBabel, since his project for the past twenty-five years has concerned the human body as subject of study, tool and material. Specifically, Gormley is interested in the body as form, but also the field in which it exists and in how other bodies will interact with it to co-produce meaning.

Gormley recently presented a retrospective of his work to the European Graduate School, and the temporal compression of twenty-five years into 90 minutes provided a dazzling insight and comprehension into the trajectory of his creative thought during this period. Admittedly, I was not a big fan of sculpture prior to his presentation, but I was smitten! The body dematerializes in his work, but he tries to wrest it back!

During the q+a session I tried to spit out a question about "blah, blah, blah … the tactile burden?"

He says: "Tactile burden? I never thought about it like that …" And he repeats the phrase: "Tactile burden."

So I get really excited. Over the next few days I start trying to figure out exactly what I mean by "tactile burden" and what it means for my own "philosophy". And that is what is consuming me right now …

Since then, I have been to see the Gormley exhibit at the Hayward in London. Over the next few posts I will be providing a synopsis of my trip there as well as key works presented during the lecture to EGS, and hopefully drawing (perceived) links to my work here at sportsBabel.

Jacques Julien

As the only "sports guy" in a field of filmmakers, painters, musicians, poets and philosophers, I expected to put aside my athletic affections while at EGS in favour of a full immersion in media, communication and the arts. So I was pleasantly surprised when the theme of sport popped up frequently and in the most unexpected ways during my time in Saas-Fee.

Ethylic, 2003 - Courtesy of Jacques Julien
Ethylic, 2003. Acier, bois, peinture 240 X 160 X 140 cms, cour des beaux arts, Chatellerault

My first unexpected encounter came via the work of Jacques Julien. Julien is a French sculptor who uses the structural elements of sport — predominantly basketball net apparatuses — as the materials for his sculptures.

My friend Gail suggested that some of Julien's work evokes a Planet of the Apes-meets-the-NBA feel. She's not far off: while Julien's sculpture stands on its own, my first exposure to it was through a collaborative video work between him and Pierre Alferi titled Ça commence à Séoul.

Julien's sculpture was used to illustrate a poem written by Alferi in tribute to Jules Verne. In the postmodern turn, the verse of the poem was partly made by cutting up the captions to the illustrations in Verne's many books and repasting them. The DVD then becomes a fantastic voyage through the world of Micronesie, in which Julien (through image) and Alferi (though text) conjure the spirit of Verne's fantasy.

Basketball (6) - Courtesy of Jacques Julien
Basket ball ( 6 ) 1998. Acier, longueur totale 2000 cm, Villa Arson, Nice

In this sense, one can very much imagine Jules Verne's fecund mind conjuring up a futuristic world in which — centuries after the NBA and its low post colonialism decline — local cultures of expressivity repurpose these artifacts of modern sport to other ends.