Imagine a rather crudely made reddish clay figurine standing about ten inches high. It's got two eyes made by poking small holes near the top of the head and it's standing on the floor "looking at you".

Ok. Now imagine 40,000 of these creatures ranging in height from about four to twelve inches and literally covering the floor of a rather large exhibition room. Every single one of these creatures is looking towards you as you stand in the room's doorway (the one's near the front look up at you while the ones further away have a more horizontal gaze). Naturally, they aren't all exactly the same colour so you see vague groupings of the creatures and strange patterns of colour scattered throughout the crowd. It's impossible to see any of the floor in the room - all you see is these little clay figurines staring at you.


What you've just imagined is real - it's called Field for the British Isles and it's a work of art by Antony Gormley currently on display in the British Museum in London until January 26, 2003.

I was visiting the museum last week and saw the posters for this special exhibition. The posters didn't really say what the exhibition was about but a special exhibition at the British Museum is a pretty safe bet and the price was right - free. I walked up the left set of stairs around the Reading Room in the Museum's new covered atrium and soon found myself in a lineup of about twenty or thirty people waiting to be allowed into a hallway up ahead. I could see that the ten or so people in the hallway were looking into a room off to the left. It didn't take long before I was at the head of the line and then it was my turn. I walked along the short hallway and peered over someone's shoulder to get my first glimpse of Field for the British Isles.

Wow!

Trust me - having a room filled with thousands of tiny creatures looking back at you is a pretty strange feeling!


Gormley's idea behind Field for the British Isles started to take shape in New York and Sydney in 1989 with two exhibits of a handful of clay figurines arranged in a pattern. This led to American Field, a grouping of 35,000 clay figurines made by brickmaker's families in Cholula, Mexico. American Field is always displayed with the figurines looking outwards and viewers are able to walk around the space.

European Field was made in 1993 by the Folk High School in Östra Grevie, Sweden. Field for the British Isles was made by about 100 volunteers from the community of St Helen's on Merseyside, England over the course of a week in September, 1993. European Field is always displayed with the figurines looking towards the single viewing point.


The rules for displaying Field for the British Isles are:

  • the floor from the front row should not be visible at all;
  • the colours should be condensed with areas of darker and lighter works placed together;
  • all eyes should face in the same direction, towards the front;
  • the very front rows are full of stargazers, whose eyes look up.


Drop by the British Museum before the exhibition ends on the 29th of January and have a look if you can. It's a National Touring Exhibition organized by the Hayward Gallery for the Arts Council of England so there will be other opportunities to see it in the future.

You can see a couple of quite good pictures of Field for the British Isles at the British Museum web site (www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk) and at a site setup to promote an earlier display of the work at St. Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, England (www.fieldshrewsbury.com).

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