Sunday, 6 October 2019

Brexit Britain is no home for the planned new figures in a French sea by an old sculptor called Anthony Gormley

You might think of Anthony, who 69 years old, as a quintessentially English sculptor whose 'Angel of the North' stands on a hill over Gateshead as a symbol of Britain’s northern identity and on the other side of the country on the Mersey Estuary, his group of 100 cast iron solo figures at Crosby beach has become part of the landscape.

The truth is that he is, in fact. a quintessentially 'European' sculptor, who on the eve of Britain’s potential departure from Europe, is planning a new and dramatic installation  on the beaches of Northern France. He wants to erect a group of seven huge sculptures, made from iron slabs, on the coast of Brittany which will look towards Britain, the potentially 'lost island of Europe.'

He has said of the project : “I am very excited about this, after all, how do you understand yourself other than by your relations with your nearest neighbours?” He has also said : “We all know the EU is inefficient, but most human institutions are inefficient and that doesn’t mean we should not be part of their improvement. I sincerely hope this moment of utter instability and lack of movement just disappears and we get on with making a sounder, safer, more just world because without the help of our neighbours we can’t do it.”

The site planned for his new work is a peninsula and archipelago of small islands that jut into the Baie de Morlaix in Finistère, near to the site of an ancient burial cairn rediscovered during quarry work in 1955.

Soon he will travel to Brittany to meet marine engineers and harbour authorities and to inspect tide levels at the sites. He said his seven giant figures would be made with up to 30 iron slabs balanced on top of each other. “They are sort of massive houses of cards, but made out of blocks that do actually cohere. They are an attempt to say something about the human condition – that we are all provisional. We stand up, but we are always in danger of falling over.”

The entire project would reach out more than 7km into the sea and a similar sculptural form was used by him on a beach at Kimmeridge bay in Dorset until waves destroyed it, but he has likened the shapes he plans to install in Brittany to those now displayed in the first gallery of his major new show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The project has yet to win final approval from the French authorities, but Anthony understands President Macron is supportive. Ostensibly designed as a response to a vast neolithic grave site nearby at Barnenez, its modern resonance,as a gesture of farewell to Britain after Brexit, is clear.

“We belong to Europe, geologically as much as anything else. We were only separated five thousand years ago. The whole idea that somehow we can go it alone by making greater relationships with the former Commonwealth and with our friends and cousins in America is just ridiculous.” 

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