Antony Gormley: Exposure (2010)

Exposure (2010), Antony Gormley. Foto: Allard Bovenberg
Exposure (2010), Antony Gormley. Foto: Allard Bovenberg

Ambassador Xavier Hufkens
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Hovering on the edge between land and water, a 26 meter tall squatting man looks out over the Markermeer. Fascinated by the malleability of the new polder, artist Antony Gormley found inspiration for this gigantic artwork in the virgin landscape. Driving through the polder, he discovered a rhythm of straight lines formed by canals, fields and windmills. Exposure recalls the network of power pylons that is spread across Flevoland like some sort of giant nervous system.

The artwork, which resembles a transparent human figure, can already be spotted from quite a distance. As one comes closer to the work, this complex feat of engineering becomes ever more abstract and impressive. Gormley often takes the human form as a starting point in his work, and generally uses his own body as an example.


Ambassador Xavier Hufkens

Xavier Hufkens. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen
Xavier Hufkens. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen

The gallerist Xavier Hufkens from Brussels has worked for thirty years with Antony Gormley. Together they realized Exposure in 2010.

“Our collaboration started when I was twenty-two and Antony Gormley thirty-two. I invited him to put on an exhibition in Brussels. Since then, he has had seven exhibitions in the gallery. It was Antony who contacted me enthusiastically about Exposure and expressed the desire to realize this exceptional project in public space.

Technically Exposure was not an easy project. The sculpture is made out of metal structures from power pylons that you can find in Flevoland, and designed by engineers associated with the University of Cambridge. The anchoring of the sculpture, with a height of 26 meters, was a complex undertaking because of the windy climate and the flat landscape.

It’s interesting to me that, despite and because of the complexity of this project, this exceptional sculpture ended up in this unique landscape. This work is about humanity, and is installed at a place claimed by humans over nature and sea. In Flevoland mankind did open a new frontier by reclaiming land from the sea.

As is often the case in the work of Antony Gormley, the sculpture is modelled after his own body. I once asked Antony why he always departs from his own body. He told me his body is an ideal subject matter, because he always carries it with him. And rather than a standing, sitting or reclining figure, Antony thought a crouching figure befitted the Flevoland landscape.

To me the work is about the relationship between the individual and the cosmos. The image is transparent, but if you’re standing next to it you feel tiny. From far away it’s a human figure and from close up it’s a network. That tension makes it very contemporary, because today the world has also become a small place. The work has an enormous visual impact and its impressive how Antony has brought together that many complex ideas in one essential image.

Since its inauguration several years ago, the work has taken on a life of its own. The crouching figure has become another resident of the area. The work is more or less the Eiffel Tower of Flevoland. Of course it’s a complex artistic project, but at the same time it’s also a daily presence and a signal in the landscape. Exposure is a valuable addition to the landscape and life in Flevoland.”

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Exposure (detail, 2010), Antony Gormley. Foto: Allard Bovenberg
Exposure (detail, 2010), Antony Gormley. Foto: Allard Bovenberg

Balancing on the interface between land and water, a 26 meter tall squatting man looks out over the Markermeer from the groyne in Lelystad. In the open landscape this human figure is a landmark in the Flevopolder. With Exposure, the British artist Antony Gormley (Hampstead, Great Britain, 1950) made the sixth Land Art project in Flevoland since the realization of Robert Morris' Observatory in 1977.

Fascinated by the manipulability of the new polder, Gormley found inspiration for this gigantic artwork in the virgin landscape. The ability to create something without references to the location's history is what makes Flevoland a special spot for him. (1) Driving through the polder, Gormley discovered a landscape with a rhythm of straight lines from canals, fields and windmills. The network of power pylons, spread out over Flevoland like a nervous system, form the source of inspiration for Exposure. (2) Using these steel skeletons as a point of departure, he created an open structure for his sculpture of the squatting man. When the weather is sunny the blue sky is reflected in the steel rods, and at sunrise and sunset the sculpture becomes a dark silhouette against the illuminating horizon.

The complex construction of almost two thousand unique steel elements could only be created thanks to the developments in modern computer technology. (3) Just like the land reclamation from the former Zuiderzee and the creation of the polder, Exposure is the product of a continuous discussion between design and technology. The engineers took the size of the artwork, Flevoland's weather conditions as well as the artist's wishes into account. Gormley considered it a challenge to create an artwork that can be defined as a clear shape from a distance yet entices to be visited. From afar, Exposure can be recognized as a transparent human figure. The closer you get to the work, the more abstract and impressive this complex example of engineering becomes. Approaching Exposure, it seems to open up like a cloud or spider web. Looking up from beneath the enormous construction the only thing you can still see are steel columns, where the birds seem to fly right through.

It is the first time within Flevoland's Land Art tradition that a figurative sculpture comments on the polder landscape without making use of elements from nature. Also, this work is uniquely located sitting on the interface between land and water in an urban setting. (4) Exposure looks out over the Markermeer with the polder behind it and with the ever-changing silhouette of Lelystad's urban landscape in the background.

Antony Gormley enjoys international fame for his large-scale art projects in urban and natural surroundings. In 1998, Gormley constructed a gigantic sculpture in the form of a steel angel in the impoverished industrial area of Gasteshead in northern England: Angel of the North (1998). The industry was on its last legs and the angel was meant to be an icon for the area's renewed strength. (5) From the top of a hill, the angel looks out over the valley. The 20 meter tall artwork with a wingspan of 54 meters has been declared one of England's most important landmarks.

Gormley often takes the most basic art form as a point of departure for his work: depicting man. Generally, he uses his own body as an example. With his sculptures, he creates an awareness of the place that man takes in (literally) and in doing so he changes the way we look at space and surroundings.

Location: breakwater at the beginning of Houtribdijk (N302), Lelystad
Materials: galvanized steel, concrete
Dimensions: height 26 meters
Proprietor and maintenance: the Municipality of Lelystad, Kunstwacht
Proprietor of the breakwater: Rijkswaterstaat

Read the article The Guardian published in 2010Watch Omroep Flevoland's episode with Jord den Hollander about Exposure (Dutch only).

(1) Margriet van Seumeren, Een reus zonder naam (A giant wihtout a name), Gooi en Eemlander, 11 October 2008.
(2) Antony Gormley, Kunstland (Art Land), Avro's KunstUur, May 2009.
(3) Project plan for the Municipality of Lelystad by Antony Gormley. Unpublished.
(4) Joost van Hezewijk interviewd by Jaap Evert Abrahamse, p. 342 in: Martine Spanjers & Annick Kleizen (ed.), (2007), De Collectie Flevoland (The Flevoland Collection), Museum De Paviljoens.
(5) Ibid., p.35.