Gormley is best known for his works that utilise casts of his own body, and as such has scattered himself across the UK, appearing most famously in the Angel of the North, and on Crosby Beach in Liverpool. Predictably, therefore, there are Gormleys a-plenty here – lying casually on the ground, hanging from ceilings, and in one upstairs space appearing triumphantly spread-eagled, eight times over, an experience that made spotting the real Antony Gormley, affably giving an interview to a reporter, mildly unnerving.
Step out on the Hayward roof terrace for a breather from all these Gormleys, and, horror-movie-like, you’ll realise that he’s got the building surrounded out there too. Event Horizon, a new work for this show, sees life-size Gormleys appearing across the London skyline, some close, others almost out of sight, a mere shadow on the horizon. The work feels both protective and threatening in equal measure.
Back inside and even the less obviously bodily based works become physical – a room of wooden box-like sculptures, appearing like an abstract city plan, begin to appear like figures waiting in regimented lines. It is then I discover, by reading the exhibition notes, that my suspicion is true and the “units” in Allotment II (1996) are based on the vital statistics of real people aged between 18 months and 80 years. Even Space Station (2007), the stunning opening work in the show, a looming collection of steel boxes that appears to defy gravity, conjures images of human beings flitting ant-like around the metallic colony.
The most arresting work here, however, turns our attention back on our own bodies. Blind Light (2007) turns out to be one of the most unnerving art experiences I’ve had for some time. Its appearance is deceptively simple – a transparent walled room filled with dry ice – but the affect is intense. On entering all orientation is immediately lost, and other people can be heard but not seen until they suddenly loom towards you out of the fog. Not one for the claustrophobic – better then to watch from the outside as viewers nervously feel their way around the walls, struggling to find the exit.
Antony Gormley: Blind Light is at the Hayward Gallery until 19 August. www.southbankcentre.co.uk/gormley