Antony Gormley

Natural Selection


Not on display

Antony Gormley born 1950
Metal, wood, glass, plastic and food
Object: 11960 × 150 × 150 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1983

Catalogue entry

T03681 Natural Selection 1981

Twenty-four objects [ball, melon, ball of string, coconut, bottle, marrow, pestle, parsnip, glue brush, pear, light bulb, lemon, grenade, goose egg, plumb bob, cucumber, bradawl, courgette, vibrator, banana, chisel, carrot, pencil, pea] encased in lead, 499 × 6 × 6 (11960 × 150 × 150)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1983
Exh: Anthony Gormley: Sculpture, Whitechapel Art Gallery, March–April 1981 (not in catalogue); The Sculpture Show, Hayward and Serpentine Galleries, August–October 1983 (27)
Lit: Lynne Cooke, ‘Anthony Gormley at the Whitechapel’, Artscribe, June 1981 no.29, pp.56–7, repr. p.57; Objects and Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, ICA and Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, 1981, p.18; Stuart Morgan, ‘Genesis of Secrecy’, Transformations, New Sculpture from Britain, exhibition catalogue, XVII Bienal de São Paulo, 1983, pp. 36–7, repr. p.37

The following entry, which has been approved by the artist, is based on conversations between him and the compiler on 25 and 31 July 1986.

‘Natural Selection’ was conceived towards the end of 1979 and executed during the following two years. It belongs to a body of related works which includes: ‘Land, Sea and Air 1’ 1977–9, ‘Fruits of the Earth’ 1978–9, ‘Full Bowl’ 1979 and ‘Three Bodies’ 1981 (all repr. in Lynne Cooke, Anthony Gormley, New York 1984, ills.6, 7, 4, 10) which are also made in lead, as well as sculptures in other materials, notably ‘Last Tree’ 1979 (repr. Objects and Sculpture, 1981, p.13) and ‘Bed’ 1980–1 (repr. Cooke 1984, ill.8) which are made out of wood and slices of bread respectively. These were all produced during the period 1977–81 and Gormley regards them as ‘analytical works which explore the objective world’ [this and all subsequent quotations, unless stated otherwise, by the artist in conversation with the compiler].

‘Natural Selection’ consists of twenty-four objects. Half are man-made and half are natural in origin. They are arranged in a canon of ascending size in which manufactured objects alternate with natural ones. Each object is encased in one layer of lead. Casing objects in lead is a means of separating the object's image from its substance, thereby creating an analogue. The lead skin ‘frees the object from time and function’ and, by removing it from direct apprehension, ‘allows it to be made anew in the viewer's mind’. A basic tenet of Gormley's art is that the creative act is collaborative, and involves the participation of both the artist and the viewer. His intention is to set up a dialogue in which the spectator can ‘energise’ the work with his own ideas and imagination, while at the same time the work may inhabit the viewer's ‘mental landscape’ and alter his view of the world.

‘Natural Selection’ arose out of Gormley's desire to make a progression piece indicating the principle, articulated in ‘Fruits of the Earth’, that he could take a manufactured object and connect it to an organic force. The title ‘Natural Selection’ is an obvious reference to Darwin's theory of evolution but at the same time is intended to be ironic. The objects included are ‘a very unnatural selection’ and are a mix of natural and ‘distressingly unnatural inventions’. Gormley has explained that his primary consideration in the selection of these particular objects was for their formal values and the way in which they could be harnessed in order to give a sense of progression and direction which would pull the observer forward. His intention is to make the act of looking a physical process: an idea which he also explored in ‘Breadline’ 1978 (repr. Cooke 1984, ill.5) and ‘One Apple’ 1981–2 (not illustrated in any publication). He recalls that he started with the idea of something small and organic - the first object in the progressìon ìs a pea - and the choice of subsequent objects followed quickly. While many of these are found objects and were readily available, others were more difficult to obtain and necessitated a search lasting many months for objects of precisely the required type and shape. Some objects have obvious morphological associations, for instance, the pear with the light bulb and the banana with the vibrator. However, the overall selection is evidence of an underlying dialectical method. Gormley holds that the practice of his work in general is based on the dialectic of destruction and creation. Referring to ‘Natural Selection’ in particular, Gormley has described how the dialectic I have used in opposing cultural and natural objects and trying to reconcile their differences whilst at the same time underlining them, relates also to the similarity of the urges of creativity with urges of aggression, the urge of sexuality and the urge towards destruction. In ‘Natural Selection’ for example, those two dialectics are very implicit. By alternating a man-made object with a god-made object I also uncover a sexual division - objects of aggression are naturally phallic; objects which present a containing oval are naturally female. However, the central elements in ‘Natural Selection’ are an egg and a grenade. The opposition has been levelled out in a morphological sense, where an object associated with aggression is morphologically close to an object naturally associated with creativity (quoted in Objects and Sculpture, 1981, p.18).

The dialectic of man-made and god-made objects in ‘Natural Selection’ is made up of tools and fruits and vegetables. They are perceived as complementary opposites which pass from one ‘orbit’ to another and cross in so doing. Fruit comes from ‘closed ground’ and ‘passes into our field’; tools extend the ‘closed ground of our bodies’ and, in being put to use, penetrate the environment. Their opposition here generates an additional resonance in referring to the relationship between work and food which, in modern times, have also become separated. The opposition and reconciliation of cultural and natural objects is further suggestive of the relationship between growth and destruction, and life and death.

‘Natural Selection’ does not make a statement in any literal or finite sense. Gormley's intention is that the work should invite speculation and provide an ‘open ground for experience and reflection’ in which the spectator is invited to make connections between the forms.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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