London may be famous for its fog — but is it art?
Antony Gormley’s new Blind Light installation challenges visitors to see for themselves, luring them into a reinforced glass box that then surrounds them in a cloud of bright, white fog so thick even their own feet vanish in the mist.
Gormley described the work at the Hayward Gallery as a “climatological and sociological experiment” that forces visitors to face a disorienting experience. He said the idea of blending people into the fog is also to make visitors part of the art.
“On the one hand, you have lost all sense of location — left, right, front, back,” Gormley said. “You immediately are lost in space and that makes you anxious. But at the same time, I think there is a sense of euphoria that you are almost free of the body whilst being returned to it in a new way.”
The 9-by-11-yard chamber is part of Gormley’s larger exhibition, also called “Blind Light.” It includes dozens of works from the prize-winning artist’s 25-year career.
The exhibition also includes 31 life-size figures on structures near the gallery, such as the National Theatre, Waterloo Bridge and buildings on both sides of the Thames. Visitors will be able to see the fiberglass and cast-iron figures — some clearly visible and others only as a presence on the horizon — from the gallery’s three sculpture terraces.
But the main attraction is the cloud of fog that envelops visitors almost instantly after they enter the box. The dense humidity makes it difficult to breathe at first and leaves visitors shaking beads of moisture from their hair.
About 25 visitors can enter the box at a time. Test groups have reacted both with excitement and claustrophobia.
“By the time you come across somebody, you are already well inside their ordinary zone of intimacy,” Gormley said. “People react to each other in a different way in that environment.”
At a press preview, few ventured far from the box’s entrance. Those who did trailed their fingers along the glass wall, clinging to the one bit of solidity in the mist. Dark silhouettes quickly vanished into the ether cloud, where a gentle trickling of water provided the only sound.
London was once known for a blinding fog that lent mystery to novels and films set in the Victorian era. In those days, water vapors condensing on microscopic industrial pollutants produced the all-consuming mist preserved in literature and lore.
New laws in the 1960s and 1970s cleaned up the air, so London’s fog these days doesn’t appear as often, or as thickly, as it previously did, said Keith Fenwick, a spokesman for the city’s Meteorological Office.
The fog in Gormley’s exhibit is created from eight overhead ultrasonic humidifiers, fueled by 37 gallons of water each hour. Inside the humidifiers, high-frequency oscillators pump the water at high speeds to create the fog. Bright fluorescent lights overhead give the ethereal white cloud a luminous appearance.
In 1994, Gormley won the prestigious Turner Prize, awarded annually to a visual artist under 50 for innovative work. He is widely known for his landmark five-story tall steel sculpture “The Angel of the North” in northeast England.
The exhibition was to open Thursday and run until Aug. 19.