Antony Gormley: Planets at British Library, London (2002)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 3 January 2010
This report was previously published in Sculpture magazine in October 2003, 22(8), page 30.

Antony Gormley: ’Planets’ at British Library, London

In July 2002, Antony Gormley installed Planets, eight boulders with incised human forms placed on existing plinths around a circular space in the front plaza of the British Library. According to Gormley, “The work celebrates the dependency of the body on the material world in this library, which is the repository of the fruits of the mind.” The positioning on the plinths makes an orbit that fits into the architectural setting, while the human forms are visible from a central point inside the circle.

Formed by successive ice ages, these boulders— from pre-Cambrian gneisse to Devonian granites and diabases— were selected from a quarry in southern Sweden. Ranging from approximately 350 to 1,000 million years old, their origin is believed to be in what is now northern Sweden or Norway. Gormley chose boulders with the colors and textures he liked best, orginially working with 12. In addition to his studio art training, Antony Gormley completed a degree in archaeology, anthropology, and art history at Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

After the stones were transported to London, they were gripped by models— people with whom Antony Gormley works and family members, including his wife and one of his daughters. While the models clasped onto the stones, Gormley outlined their figures in chalk, and afterwards the stones were carved with representations of the bodies. Eight were selected.

Originally commissioned in 1986, Planets took a number of years to install due to funding difficulties. Meanwhile, Antony Gormley stopped working with stone later in the 1980s. According to Projects Coordinator Isabel King from Gormley’s studio: “Planets is one of his very early pieces. Antony was given the opportunity to reconsider the design, but he felt that Planets was the best thing. He was quite excited to go back to carving in stone, something he doesn’t do anymore. He was pleased to have that chance.”

With its orbit, planets, ancient stones, and incised human forms, Planets refers to timeless connections between man and environment and the physical properties and natural elements that they share. To celebrate the installation of Planets, poet Simon Armitage, who has worked with Antony Gormley in the past, was commissioned by the British Library to write a poem, “Entrance,” inspired by the sculpture.