‘I had never written a poem before and had no intention of entering the competition…’

Trinity Gardener Jonathan Strauss was not alone in being unexpectedly inspired by the Gormley sculpture. He submitted a poem to the competition for Trinity staff and students to write or photograph their response to FREE OBJECT, the first work of modern art on Trinity’s Backs.

Sir Antony Gormley’s massive iron sculpture was installed as part of the 700th anniversary of the College’s early foundations and officially launched in early February 2018.

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Jonathan said: ‘One day while working near FREE OBJECT, conversations I’d had a few months back with Fellows, Porters and the members of the public about the ‘monstrosity on the Backs’ came back to me in the form of lines of poetry.’ In ‘Overhead conversation between a Fellow and a Gardener,’ Jonathan writes:

The monster I speak is not of that kind

Not of the claw or the tooth

But the mind

It’s standing out there, at least 12 feet tall

Not moving an inch, just watching us all


Other members of staff and students were watching and reflecting on the five-metre, 11 tonne sculpture by renowned artist and Trinity alumnus, Antony Gormley. At the official launch, the artist presented prizes to the winners of the competition.

‘But we thought, why stop there?’ said judge and Trinity Fellow, Dr Emma Widdis. ‘There were so many interesting pieces of writing and unusual photographs that deserve a wider audience.’

The submissions reveal often changing perspectives on FREE OBJECT, the creative juices the sculpture squeezed from staff and students, the resonances with study and work, and the unexpected consequences of really thinking and looking at the work.

Elisabet Lajara, a member of Trinity’s Bar staff, attracted the attention of Porters and passersby as she composed her photograph with selected books stacked on the lower reaches of FREE OBJECT.

‘Some people asked me if I was an artist and while talking to them, arranging the shot and taking the picture, I realised I was really enjoying myself – this is what I used to and would like to continue doing.’

Elisabet Lajara
Elisabet Lajara’s entry
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Parwana Fayyaz’s entry

Postgraduate student and Library staff member, Parwana Fayyaz, said that early one morning her view of the sculpture suddenly changed.

For the first time, I felt the presence of the sculpture. It stood tall, dark, and absorbed in its surroundings and in vertical opposition to the horizontally flowing River Cam. There were footprints on the sidewalk next to the river. The bridge was the dividing line. Yet this FREE OBJECT stood alone, tall and strong – facing everywhere.

Library Assistant, Kevin McGeoghegan, admires Gormley’s work but admits he wasn’t immediately drawn to FREE OBJECT. The process of thinking and writing about the sculpture at Trinity changed his view. ‘It was then that I began to empathise. I had only viewed Antony’s work from afar previously and at the time of writing my appreciation I misunderstood the materials and construction techniques, only discovering these points after making my submission,’ he said.

Third-year student, Jack Eastwood, found resonances between his studies in how cultural and ethnic identities are expressed in material culture and the Gormley sculpture, particularly in the current political climate in Europe. He said:

I was struck how the sculpture was both one object and many objects. It captured for me the complex relationship between the individual and society and the often harmful categorisation of the ‘other’ by those who perceive, in this case, the stack of cubes as monstrous.

Jack took part in the competition, submitting a poem, in part to show his support for initiative. ‘It is such a great asset to the College and I wanted to show my support because I am aware it has taken a great amount of persuasion to get it here.’

For Jonathan, the creative flow was its own reward. ‘To be honest, it’s nice (not to mention rare) to be part of a workplace that can inspire that,’ he said.

Jon Strauss 2
Jonathan Strauss’ entry

And something else entirely unexpected emerged from Jonathan’s verse. Tom Froggatt, musician and son of Trinity gardener, Lee Froggatt, created a song. Jonathan said: ‘It’s amazing how the act of creativity spurs on others. Tom used my poetry as lyrics and began creating his own song. I have heard the first draft and am completely blown away by it. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with!’

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