Peter Clegg went with sculptor Antony Gormley to the Arctic Circle to create bleakly beautiful representations of the human body, a planet and a dead friend
An extraordinary construction of packed snow created within the Arctic Circle by artist Antony Gormley and architect Peter Clegg carries a trio of deep resonances.
Seen in the bright Arctic sunlight, the three sharp crystalline forms have a strong sculptural quality. Less obviously, they are a metaphor for global warming. And most poignantly of all, though not originally intended as such, they stand as a memorial for Clegg’s close friend and partner, Richard Feilden, who had intended to join the trip but died in an accident a couple of months before.
The three snow constructs, made in Norway’s Svalbard islands in March, comprise an elongated box recessed into the snow, a monolith and a void cut out of the snow. To Gormley, they are geometrical representations of the human body, human consciousness and the necessity of a collective space of fellowship.
To Clegg, however, they represent units of carbon dioxide, a man-made agent of global warming. “But what do you understand by a kilogram of CO2?” he asks. “How can our minds grasp the weight of a gas? Some time ago it occurred to me that it might be helpful to try to define the kilogram of CO2 as a space rather than a mass. One kilogram of CO2 at atmospheric pressure occupies 0.54 m3. It is roughly the volume occupied by a coffin, which is perhaps an appropriately symbolic unit when we are talking about the destruction of the planet.”
Pressing the point home, Clegg continues: “We can relate that ‘coffin’s worth’ of CO2 to the exhaust of a two-litre car travelling 10 miles, or leaving a 100 W lightbulb on for a day. In the UK, each of us is responsible for nearly 10,000 coffins a year. In a sustainable future, our emissions should be less than 2000 coffins.”
Looking at his constructs in a more personal light, Clegg found their abstract body forms had more poignant significance. The sarcophagus seemed to him “to take on the character of an eloquent memorial to Richard”.
As for the sunlit monolith that stood sentinel over the icebound fjord, he found “this enclosed void to be an even more appropriate [memorial]”. He adds: “Our ‘Three Made Places’ – Block, Standing Room and Shelter – are all reflections of the human form that represent a transient statement in what may turn out to be an all-too transient landscape.”
A memorial event for Richard Feilden will be held at 6.30pm on 14 September in the Inner Temple Garden on London’s Embankment.
It will be preceded by a mass bike ride from Hyde Park to the river Thames starting at 5pm. See www.feildenclegg.com/richard for further details.