Transport. Antony Gormley. Canterbury Cathedral. 05-09-12

Quite rightly no photography is allowed in the crypt area and silence is expected but I was lucky enough to be given verbal permission by a member of the cathedral staff to take this shot while the crypt was empty.

Antony Gormley’s work, Transport, which was made especially for the Jesus chapel of the crypt of Canterbury cathedral is such a perfect fit for the site that you could almost believe that the whole of the chapel has been built around it especially to give it a home. It hovers above the site of the first tomb of Archbishop Thomas Beckett, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170. This means that it has considerable history and resonance to contend with. This site already speaks and placing something new there is a dangerous, but exciting, game. The figure is made from antique nails which were once part of the south east transept roof, a light and airy presence which is made from small pieces of heavy metal. They now form the shape of a floating body, hung from a single wire which moves gently in space and seems to hang there by its own power. It seems to complete and fulfill the space.

There are so many resonances, both religious and secular, that it is hard to know where to start. It is both solid and ephemeral, reminding us that we are all only temporary inhabitants of our bodies, whether we believe that we have a soul or not. We are all suspended between birth and death and the fact that we are here at all is something of a miracle. This life journey is one sense of the word transport which the work draws on. The work is both anonymous, standing for all humanity, and specific, made with the proportions of Antony Gormley’s own body. We are all unique but we are all one in our common humanity. The figure floating calmly in its own space, contemplative and gentle, could be any one of us, or any one of the thousands of people in the past who have passed through the chapel. Those who see it in the future will be no different to those of us who look at it now. Like the cathedral itself it is outside time, just as those with a faith believe that God is. The empty central space of the sculpture is the void where a soul might once have been. A prescence and an absence. Jesus himself is seen by the faithful as both man and God, ethereal and corporeal and this is a figure floating between two worlds. An emblem of suffering and survival which speaks to, and for, us all.

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