I’ve been intending to visit the modernist De La Warr Pavilion on the south coast of England for some time, so when I heard that Anthony Gormley was exhibiting a version of Critical Mass on the pavilion’s roof, the opportunity to see both was too good to miss. It was a warm sunny and breezy day when I visited and the pavilion was at its best – a marvellous study in light and shade, which changes character as the sun moves round.
On the roof terrace were Anthony Gormley’s cast iron figures being brilliantly lit by the sun, which made the shadows as interesting as the figures. I started by seeing the sculptures as objects; cast iron shapes in almost abstract form, but as I walked between them looking at detail – the rust pockets, the fall of light and shade – I started seeing the resemblance to the bodies at Pompey, where the volcanic ash has preserved the shape of the huddled figures even though the body has long since decayed. It was as though Gormley’s figures and those at Pompey were negatives and positives of the same event. And the Gormley figures are a black – negative – version of his own white body from which the casts were made.
My final reaction to the sculptures was how they must resemble bodies on a battlefield or exhumed from a mass grave. Although I’ve never been in this situation for real, I can imagine anyone who has would have their memories re-kindled by this display.
Despite my rather macabre reaction to the exhibit, it is was well worth the visit.