I went over to St Helens College to see Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles which I first saw at the Tate Liverpool in 1993. Field is one of Antony Gormley’s best-loved works of art featuring 40,000 clay figures. This summer Field has returned to St.Helens, the town where it was created 15 years ago.
The figures were handmade by 100 people, aged seven to seventy, at Sutton Manor High School in St.Helens in 1993, using local Ibstock clay. Every time Field is exhibited it takes about a week to install with a team of local volunteers, which this time will include some of the original makers of the work.
Winner of the 1994 Turner Prize, Antony Gormley is renowned for his distinctive representations of the human form. Gormley has described Field as ‘… twenty-five tons of clay energised by fire, sensitised by touch and made conscious by being given eyes … a field of gazes which looks at the observer making him or her its subject’. This arresting installation comprises a sea of miniature terracotta figures, clustered together. Some stand out because of their size and character; others are greyer than the earthy reds of the majority: the overall sight is both captivating and mesmerising.
In 1995 Field was purchased by the Arts Council Collection with the support of the Henry Moore Foundation and the National Art Collections Fund. Since its acquisition Field has been seen by nearly 400,000 visitors in Aberystwyth, Carlisle, Colchester, Gateshead, Gloucester, Lincoln, London, Salisbury, Sheffield, Shrewsbury, Wakefield and St Ives, in venues as diverse as a train-shed, a church, a cathedral, a gallery, and a warehouse.
This exhibition is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the Merseyside Objective One Programme and is a Hayward Touring Exhibition from the Arts Council Collection.
This is Anthony Gormley on the Field project, which has involved the creation of many Fields in different parts of the world:
From the beginning I was trying to make something as direct as possible with clay: the earth.
I wanted to work with people and to make a work about our collective future and our responsibility for it. I wanted the art to look back at us, its makers (and later viewers), as if we were responsible – responsible for the world that it (the work Field) and we were in. I have made it with help five times in different parts of the world. The most recent is from Guangzhou, China, and was exhibited in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing in 2003. It’s made from one hundred and twenty-five tons of clay energised by fire, sensitised by touch and made conscious by being given eyes.
The 200,000 body-surrogates completely occupy the space in which they are installed, taking the form of the building and excluding us, but allowing visual access. It is always seen from a single threshold. The dimensions of the viewing area are equivalent to no less than one sixth of the total floor area of the piece. This viewing area is completely empty. The viewer then mediates between the occupied and unoccupied areas of a given building. I like the idea of the physical area occupied being put at the service of the imaginative space of the witness
I gave these instructions to the makers:
Take a hand-size ball of clay, form it between the hands, into a body surrogate as quickly as possible. Place it at arm’s length in front of you and give it eyes.
It was important that it was through the repeated action of touching, forming, placing apart from the body and making conscious, that each person found their own form. The extraordinary thing was the distinctiveness of the forms that were found.