James Putnam
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In conversation with Antony Gormley, October 2002.


James Putnam: So we’ve been comparing these ancient artefacts with your ‘Field’ figures and discussing their amazing sense of continuity. From the various versions you’ve made can you see regional or cultural differences for instance between ‘Field For The British Isles’ and the first version of ‘Field’ which was made in Mexico?

Antony Gormley: Well they were all made by one family, the Texcas, where everybody was blood related, so in a curious way, this ‘Field’ has the closet family resemblance. The works seem to have a composure and continuity about them. The ones made in the British Isles are far more varied. Some of the heads get very big and some of them get very tall. There is always a huge variation in the actual shaping.

JP: Do you encourage the people that make ‘Field’ figures to put an individual touch to them?

AG: Yes, I think that is what the project is about for the people making it. Each person is going on a journey. Often they never made things before at all, and are frightened about the fact that the clay is so sticky, difficult to manage. I am just always encouraging them to keep going, keep taking your ball of clay and mould it in your hands, and find your own way of working. Just like the way you walk, the way you write is individual to you, find your way of dealing with this clay. There are only three rules: you have got to make it hand size, it has got to stand up, and it has got to have eyes, and the eyes should look above horizon, so they look up, and that’s it. Everything else is down to you.

JP: So the makers do discover their own sense of self-expression?

AG: I think that is what happens to everybody. Slowly, and usually by the end of the first day, they have found their form; they have found a way of making that feels comfortable to them. And then they are put into rows. You sit on the floor and you are making your pieces. Somebody is bringing you always fresh clay and you are taking it, scooping it up, and making a ball, and then squeezing it into shape in your hands. Then put it on the floor and give it eyes. You make them in rows of 10 and as you are all sitting there, each one of them is looking at you, and sort of bearing witness to you as the maker, and saying: O.K. Here I am. And there is a sense in which the process becomes circular, self-generating and self-reflective. So you can imagine after a day you would expect somebody to make between 100 and 200 a day.They are the result of a breeding and repeating process.

JP: When you made the first ‘Field’ did you have a kind of revelation about the ambitious scope of the project and where it might lead?

AG: Well the very first clay pieces I made were used in a piece called ‘Man Asleep’ which was an attempt to think about our feeling of being unconscious of the future or the consequences of our action, and that came out of being inspired by this amazing relief I saw on the west front of Orvieto Cathedral by a 14th century sculptor. He made this classic scene of ‘The Birth of Eve’ where Adam is in an unconscious state, deeply asleep. I thought that it was an amazing parable, not about what it was representing but a parable about man’s lack of responsibility for what happens generally - we are somehow victims of circumstance.

JP: How did this evolve into making multiple clay figures?

AG: Well I made a lead figure of the body case of ‘Man Asleep’ at the time of the Ethiopian famine. I remember seeing this picture of people walking to one of the feeding camps. That became the inspiration to making the first of these clay pieces. But they actually were much more like this (pointing to a pre-dynastic Egyptian figure) as they were walking. I made the line of walking figures behind the sleeping lead piece. And that in a way had echoes of the Holocaust, refugees, immigrants and migration or the passage of the history itself. So the lead piece was sleeping on the floor and this line of figures ran behind the head.

JP: How does that relate to this 'Birth of Eve' relief that inspired you?

AG: I wanted the challenge of putting the viewer in the position of Adam and in some way making them wake up and become responsible. So that was when I started thinking how do I make a ground out of individually-made pieces, acknowledge the fact that they are earth, make the earth conscious, and make the viewer conscious of the earth. That in the end was what it became about and I realized I wanted to do an ‘environmental’ work. It was an attempt to make us think about our relationship and dependency on the earth, over population, the kind of inequality of North and South, the ‘haves and have nots’. And the very first version of the ‘Field’ was made as a kind of split hemisphere, like a cross-section of the brain. You could walk into the centre; there was an opening in the centre, and there were 1,100 of these works in serried ranks. They were like the magnetic field diagrams of centrifugal energy.

JP: So when did you envision creating a sheer mass of figures?

AG: Not long after that, in the early 1990s, I arranged to have this showing in New York. I realized that there is only one way to deal with this, I am going to fill up the whole gallery and nobody is going to be able to get into the space. The visitors are going to be confronted by this total occupation that was going in some way to challenge them. They thought that they were coming to see works that they would either like or not like, and in the end, they themselves became the objects under scrutiny. So it was the art that was scrutinizing them, not them scrutinizing the art, and it was my actual realization of this that was the best.

To find out more about 'Field' visit The British Museum's website.

Antony Gormley at the British Museum

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