Students today are certainly prone to ideological vacuuming: Currently, a group of students is on track to block the installation of a sculpture by artist Sir Antony Gormley at Imperial College London over concerns that the steel structure, which some students claim is “phallic in nature” will “damage the image and reputation of the college”.
The movement to block the image, which is distributed by the Imperial College Union, claims that while the image is said to depict a crouching human body, it instead evokes a phallus that descends on a protrusion that protrudes “about ten feet horizontally”. .
There is “nothing inherently wrong with phallic imagery in art,” the movement continues, but the “preoccupation of the phallic interpretation with the penis may be considered inappropriate for a grand public display, especially given the size of the image.” The Daily Beast contacted the Imperial College Union for comment.
“Despite the support within the union and the fact that the paper has apparently been seen by senior college staff and Gormley’s team, I doubt it will affect the installation of ALERT,” an anonymous student from Imperial College told the art newspaper. “I don’t think this is the kind of thing college would pull out or listen to students.”
Frankly, there is something depressing about young students reacting so violently to a sculptural interpretation of the human form. Even if the artwork is a penis in disguise: who cares?
The statue, titled ALERTconsists of blocks of steel coated with stable oxide, giving it a more rusty hue when exposed to the elements.
“By transforming anatomy into architectural construction, I want to reassess the relationship between body and space,” Gormley explained in a statement. “Balancing on the balls of the feet, crouching on its haunches and surveying the world around it, the posture of this sculpture is alive, alert and awake.”
Gormley’s work has been the center of sex-related controversies before: in 2021, the artist’s iron sculptures were removed from East Suffolk beach after opponents complained that they looked like sex toys, or in some cases, rabbit poo.
It’s also not the first time a Gormley sculpture has sparked the ire of students: in 2018 Closurea sculpture by Gormley installed at Newcastle University was protested by many different students who found the spindly structure a ‘weird thing’, ‘a piece of driftwood’, ‘ugly’ and ‘terrible’.
“Public art can stimulate conversation and enrich our environment,” Professor Eric Cross, Dean of Cultural Affairs in Newcastle, said at the time. “The scale of this striking work and its prominent position will create a new focal point on campus and provide an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with others and our environment.”
The particular part of the new statue that the Imperial College Union seems to be having trouble with is the part of the rendering that Gormley claims raises knees. Instead, the students think this part is a penis.
“While the artist’s intended form may be… [evoke our] ‘community of scientific research’ does not accept the phallic interpretation’, continues the motion of the Union. “The name ALERT may also be understood as referring to the statue’s phallus standing upright.”
The Daily Beast also contacted Gormley and Imperial College for comment.
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