The NS Interview: Antony Gormley, artist

“You should definitely cut defence before you cut art”

Were you always going to be an artist?
No. It wasn't one of these things where at the age of three I knew that I was going to be a painter. Far from it. It was a slow realisation that I couldn't be anything else.

Did your upbringing have an influence?
I was educated by monks [at Ampleforth College] - I thank them dearly for the education they gave me, but I am no longer a Catholic. But, having been one, I have, in the words of William Blake, to make my own system or I will be enslaved by another man's. I think that's what I am doing - trying to construct my own system. It's a dangerous thing for an artist.

Do you see your art as having a purpose?
I used to think that the great thing about sculpture was that, like Stonehenge, it was something that stood against time in an adamantine way, and was an absolute mass in space. Now I try to use the language of architecture to redescribe the body as a place.

Why are you so drawn to the human body?
It's funny, I'm not that interested in it as a body: I'm interested in it as the place where we all live. It's the collective, subjective condition of a human being.

You often use your own body in your work.
It saves a lot of hassle. Why make another body when you've got one already? It releases you from the stranglehold that art has had placed
on it, more or less from the Renaissance, which is the making of the perfect copy.

Are you a victim of critical snobbery?
It is impossible to escape. If your work doesn't speak to people, it's beyond comprehension and risible, but if people engage with it you become tarred with the brush of populism.

Is connecting people with art important to you?
It's wonderful to see art in a museum, but it is institutionalised. I don't like the idea of the artwork as something that requires special conditions. I would like it to be universal.

So, the idea is that art belongs to everyone?
Each one of us is a creative, responsive individual. You can't push people into the position of being dumb, of being consumers of spectacle. For me, it's very important that art becomes commonly owned again.

Would you say this is a good time for art?
Oh, very. British art has come of age. We had always been apologetic. We aren't any more. There is a sense that the visual arts in Britain are setting the agenda for people all over the world. It's never happened before.

Has the art world become overly commercial?
I think that you could say markets follow energy. If there wasn't the energy, there wouldn't be anything to sell. But I think you can always tell when artists are more interested in money than they are in discovering and using their voice for its own sake.

Should art mix with politics?
Art and politics are inextricably linked, and art has always been an arena in which human freedom has been tested and extended. That's what my Fourth Plinth project was all about - a test site for human identity and for the demonstration of our liberties.

What do you make of the coming cuts to arts funding?
Disastrous. You should definitely cut defence before you cut art. Art is the way that an individual and a nation express their vitality. Without it, we might as well not be alive.

Should the arts receive special protection?
The idea that somehow art should be cut in the same way as everything is just completely and utterly indefensible. It is as if somehow we are having to be buried as well as being told that we are poor and starving.

Can philanthropy fill the gap?
That's wishful thinking. The American model, where national institutions and their boards are in some way influenced by the largest funders, is open to extreme abuse. I would never discourage philanthropy, but there is a huge difference between patronage and state funding. The state has a duty to be a good patron.

What do you think of the coalition so far?
I'm waiting.

Do you vote?
I certainly vote. I continued to vote for Labour in the last election.

Is there a plan?
There was a plan to try to be a good artist. And that's still the project.

Is there anything you would like to forget?
I deeply regret the loss of my eldest brother. I don't ever want to forget him, but I regret that he died.

Are we all doomed?
It's up to us.

Defining Moments

1950 Born in London
1971 Completes degree in archaeology, anthropology and art history at Trinity College, Cambridge
1977-79 Attends Slade School of Fine Art
1994 Wins Turner Prize with his terracotta sculpture series Field
1998 Made Officer of Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to sculpture
2010 Signs an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, protesting at arts cuts

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, War on WikiLeaks

Flickr/Alfred Grupstra
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How will future videogame makers design a grand strategy game about the 21st century?

With the diminishing power of nation states, and the lack of conventional warfare, what would a 21st-century grand strategy game look like?

In the world of historical strategy games, it always seems clear how to win. Paint the map your colour. Raise your flag over the capitals of your rivals. Pave the streets of your cities with gold. Games based around statecraft in olden times will tend to have diverse objectives, they usually focus on the greatness of a nation in the traditional senses of the word: military might, technological advancement, religious and cultural hegemony. These same priorities hold up from the times of the Roman Republic to the Cold War.

Yet if games designers in the future were to look at the world of today, how would they interpret the actions of modern governments? Do the same goals as before apply or have we moved on? Are the objectives of contemporary societies different, and if so, just what would a player in a game of 21st-century grand strategy be trying to achieve?

One thing is for sure, the conventional measures of success in historical grand strategy games don’t stack up so easily in a modern setting.

War, for instance, has always been a staple part of historical games and it remains a preoccupation of contemporary society too. In the 15 years of the 21st century, Britain has invaded two countries, conducted armed interventions in three more and is even now lining up the procurement of new fighter jets, new aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons at incredible expense. So we can safely say we do not live in a peaceful age.

But despite having all this firepower and the political will to bring it to bear at the drop of a dossier, war doesn’t seem to serve Her Majesty’s Government in the way it does in either the history books or the strategy games. There is no territory to be won and no rival great powers being thwarted – only air strikes, occupations and teetering puppet governments.

Indeed the only country whose military adventures bear any resemblance to the old-timey way of doing things is Russia, with Putin perhaps the last of the breed of world leaders who still thinks swapping out the flags on municipal buildings constitutes a legitimate redrawing of national boundaries. Given his famous distrust for technology it seems quite likely he didn’t get the tersely worded Tweet from Obama about how that kind of thing isn’t supposed to work anymore.

On the economic side of things the approaches opted for by governments today don’t fit with the historical mind set either. Nations are no longer trying to get rich for their own sake. Privatisation relinquishes the assets of the state in return for a temporary financial gain and long term loss of revenue. Deregulation and poor tax enforcement bleeds capital overseas. It is here we see perhaps the key difference between games where you play as The State itself and real countries, countries run by people who have bank balances of their own and competing party financiers to appease.

The idea of running a country for the purpose of making that country wealthier and then reinvesting that wealth back into the country by developing assets and infrastructure has gone out of the window. Simultaneously both the leftwing model of a state run for the benefit of its citizens and the rightwing ideal of a country mastering its economy to become a more powerful force on the world stage have been quietly phased out. Outsourcing and tax havens suggest that there is no longer room for patriotism in economic policy – unless you’re China, of course, but it wouldn’t be much of a game with only one nation playing it.

On a technological front there was the space race, and there have even been games built around it. But in the 21st century, the urgency and the sense of competition has been lost. Rovers on Mars, probes on comets and space stations tend to be viewed in a spirit of collective human achievement, partly because of the collaborative nature of modern space exploration, and also, I suspect, because lots of people in those fields are Star Trek fans.

The idea of going to Mars so you can stand on the surface of another planet and tell the Communists to stuff it no longer appeals as much as that whole "pushing back the scientific boundaries for the benefit of all life of Earth" deal. It is laudable, but not ideal for games built around competing with other countries.

In the 21st century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? What would 21st-century grand strategy look like?

It could be argued that we’ve moved beyond the era of nation states as the bodies driving world affairs, and such a game might reflect that. Maybe something more akin to a Crusader Kings game would be the way to go, with the player taking the role of an individual – a connected political blueblood, perhaps, like an oligarch, a CEO, an activist turned politician, a drugs baron or a terrorist leader. Or maybe we would play not as an individual, but as an organisation, for example the CIA, ExxonMobil, Isis, Amnesty International or the Solntsevskaya Bratva.

It may be that we never see the present day immortalised in a strategy game, at least outside of that passing phase in Civilization where everything is either settled down or exploding in nuclear fire. Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the 20th century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day, if only to find out what winning the 21st century would look like.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture