The University of East Anglia is being criticised over the placement of an Antony Gormley statue on the library roof. A petition has been launched protesting the artwork’s installation.
— UEA (@uniofeastanglia) April 11, 2017
The statue of a life-sized human body on the top of the multi-storey building has been accused of “mak[ing] students uncomfortable” and “stressing students out with the constant image of somebody who looks like they are about to take their own life”. One signatory commented “why would you want to freak people out like this?”
The cast iron statue is part of The 3X ANOTHER TIME series by Sir Anthony Gormley, which will be officially unveiled on April 22nd. The installation includes a similar sculpture on the library walkway, and one near the ziggurats. The statues are part of a project by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
The university described the placement of the statues “at different focal points and sightlines, including roof level,” as “thought-provoking… offer[ing] both spectacle and surprise.”
“This project demonstrates how the Sainsbury Centre and University can attract internationally important artists to work in Norwich and the region. These spectacular and poignant sculptures will complement the campus and will provoke discussions exploring the relationship between man and nature,” said Calvin Winner, Head of Collections at the Sainsbury Centre and curator of the project.
Vice-Chancellor Prof David Richardson added: “We’re very much looking forward to welcoming visitors to UEA to see this arresting installation, which will add an exciting dimension to our campus art trail.”
Artist Antony Gormley described the works as: “Still moments of lived time placed in space. I like the feeling of the campus and its openness to the sky and the changing conditions of light and weather. Between the undercroft of the library and its exposed parapets and the teaching wall, I hope the work engages with the life of the University and with elemental conditions.”
The petition titled ‘Take the Anthony Gormley Statue [sic] off the library roof’ states: “In a sudden and unsettling move, UEA has decided – at a time of intense stress for students with exams and dissertation work – to stick up a statue of a person standing right on the edge of the library roof.
“Some students have said that this makes them uncomfortable, as from first glance it looks as if a human being is about to jump off the building. Many students will not be aware of the statue and so to suddenly impose this on them during an already stressful period is unfair.
“This petition requests that UEA remove the statue and stop stressing students out with the constant image of someone who looks like they are about to take their own life.”
Aimee Smith, a third year English Literature student, said: “My issue with these sculptures is that they are immensely insensitive. The sculpture on top of the library in particular is an intensely visual image of suicide. For a university that prides itself on its student welfare and experience, and as a student who has made use of the welfare services on many occasions, it feels like a real punch in the face that very real concerns of a startling amount of students has been reduced to merely a piece of art.”
She continued: “Suicide, mental health issues, and the welfare of our students is not something which should become a spectacle. It is something that should be treated with dignity and respect and in its proper place, where students can chose to be exposed to this potentially triggering material. A student with mental health struggles does not want to be reminded of this on their daily visits to the library.”
Hannah Armstrong, a third year English Literature and Creative Writing student, told Concrete: “I love the sculptures around UEA but I just think the positioning of this piece was a very poor choice – especially with exam season approaching.”
She added: “Hopefully they can find somewhere better to display it.”
However, opinion on campus is divided over the issue. Third year History and Politics student, Johnnie Wright, stated that he “loves” the statue, adding: “I think it’s beautiful and UEA is very lucky to have been selected to have them!”
In response to the petition, UEA have stated that: “the university is very proud to be hosting thought-provoking work by an artist of such international acclaim – continuing UEA’s long relationship with sculpture and the visual arts. The reaction of the university community since the announcement last month about this exciting project has been overwhelmingly positive and we are sure the three figures will become much-loved focal points in our campus landscape.”
Anthony Gormley, commenting on the statues installation, said that: “the three sculptures all look out towards open space and call upon the connections between the palpable, the perceivable and the imaginable. The work on the ground, seen in perspective at the end of the library colonnade, is a body whose mass can be touched. It engages with the moving bodies of viewers that share its plane. The other two are at roof height; the meeting between sky and earth, mediated by architecture. These far-off sentinels at height suggest a connection between the imagination and a horizon unavailable to those immersed within the campus buildings.”
Commenting on the response to the artwork, UEA SU Welfare and Diversity Officer, Jo Swo, told Concrete that while: “the University can place art where it likes, given the mental health crisis on campus and the continued lack of a coherent plan or strategy around it, this is an astonishing act going into exam season.
“UEA has described the positioning of the Library roof statue as ‘thought provoking’- but given the thought that it’s provoking in the majority of onlookers is that the figure is considering suicide, either someone was stupid enough not to anticipate the reaction or insensitive enough to predict it but go ahead anyway.
“It’s unlikely to have been his personal idea or decision, but any Vice Chancellor with humility would now intervene to get the statue moved, ensuring that University decision makers understand the mental health issues being faced by its student body.”
Additional reporting by Jessica Frank-Keyes