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Thursday, August 1, 2019

looking out/ looking in (part I)

'6 times left', by Antony Gromley. Image: Financial Times
I recently signed up for an online course, Theoretical Thinking and Writing in Arttaught by An Paenhuysen. Each week we have an assignment. For the first assignment I had to read an art review and distill from it a theoretical question. I had to pay attention to the language used and mull over how the writer expresses her thoughts. And then my own thoughts that emerge. Here is what I wrote.

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Financial Times, June 14, 2019, by Rachel Spence 

Is a work of art an isolated ‘object' to be ‘admired’ in any unspecified space? Or can location transform the work to reveal or heighten its meaning? Or can the work of art and location feed off each other to create a new reality? 

Reading Rachel Spence’s review of Antony Gromley’s show Sight, set in the ruins of Delos (Greece), one cannot help but feel that it is the latter that is true in this instance. Spence draws the reader in right at the start: a solitary figure (Gromley’s sculpture) on the peak of Mount Kynthos looking out at the Aegean sea. Immediately she evokes both a sense of the romantic and the sublime. The contrast between the smallness of the individual and the vastness of the beyond is unmistakable. Spence talks as much about the venue of the exhibition, the ancient ruins of Delos (a Greek island 'steeped in myth’), as Gromley’s work. Contemporary art meets ancient culture to create an otherworldly (or perhaps a more true-to-the-earth?) spectacle. The island’s ‘primal solitude’ mirrors itself in Gromley’s figures. Spence calls the island being an ‘evocative venue’ for Gromley’s ‘timeless vision’. She then goes on to talk about ‘retinal tricks’: Gromley’s figures that sometimes blend and sometimes stand out in the ruins and landscape of Delos. Spence’s imagination takes flight at the sight of these figures in the unlikely setting of an island with rich history. It also alters her perception of time as she considers one of the figures and remarks on Gromley’s ‘gift for temporal sorcery’. 

Spence considers how we view art, interact with it and are transformed by it. Gromley’s figures seem to gaze at the horizon; and in considering this gaze, Spence makes a note about Gromley’s show title, Sight, and how the figures gazing outward “turn our eyes inward.” I imagine a visitor examining one of Gromley’s figures and stepping between the figure and the view of the horizon. The gaze is obstructed, and now the figure gazes at the visitor. Who is looking at whom? The concept of ’darshan’ comes to mind: of seeing and being seen.

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