I’m Sarah Olivey, I’m an Assistant Curator here at Tate Britain
This is work is Antony Gormley’s Bed made in 1981. Around this time Gormley made several other works using bread but this is by far the largest and most ambitious. It’s made of 8,640 slices of white bread, about 600 loaves, which have been dried and dipped in paraffin wax, and there’s two hollows where the artist has consumed, a volume of bread equivalent to the volume of his own body.
The bread that Gormley’s used is Mother’s Pride which was the most commonly bought processed bread in the UK at the time. And he’s described it as almost being part of a distribution network more akin to gas or electricity, so the piles and mounds of bread are almost like a storehouse of energy.
Gormley had a Catholic upbringing and it’s been suggested that the bread might refer to the Catholic ritual of taking the sacrament and the figure of the poses with their arms folded across the chest replicates the pose of the dead carved on medieval tombs.
It’s interesting to think about the bed as a site for birth, death and relationships, and the idea of the body as a temporary vessel, part of a greater system of transformation and decay.
The work took about three months to make, the artist ate the bread, dried it on racks, dipped it in wax and then stacked and layered it to make the bed shape of the sculpture.
He’s best known for the lead body case sculptures which are casts of his own body. his entire practice is focussed on using his own body to investigate man’s relationship to the world both physically and spiritually, and thinking about the body as a container for the infinite space inside the body, emotions and imagination, and the case is a kind of skin delineating the interior and exterior space of the body.
Although this looks quite different the two halves of the bread are a little bit like a mould that if you close together would encase the whole body so the two imprints are exactly half the volume of his body.