Friday, 4 September 2009

Gormley's Field in a Shoe Box

I do love Anthony Gormley's Field for the British Isles.

I think I first spotted it in The Independent when it was unveiled back in 1991, and spent a long time staring at the photographs of it in poor quality newsprint, clear proof I needed to see it for real.

If you don't know it, I suggest you put it into Google Images and have a real good look, but if you're in a hurry here's the jist. It's a sculpture: 35,000 small, unglazed terracotta figures packed tightly together in a huge space. More that you can count, many disappearing out of view, all staring at one point: the small doorway you are standing in. A few – stargazers – stare upwards. It can be set-up in any large room, and has indeed toured the UK and the globe. If you get chance, go and see it.

Field for the British Isles gets you in a lot of ways.

Firstly, biologically, because you cannot help but perceive those lumps with two holes at the top as faces, bodies, heads, eyes and personalities. Spend long enough with them and you'll be picking out the lovers, family groups, gangs, loners and elderly among them.

And what’s more, they’re a huge crowd, which gets you psychologically. It makes your hairs stand on end. Crowds do not gather lightly, there has to be spectacle, protest, exodus, battle. A crowd that big suggests world changing events, or at least an event the world sits down to watch.

But wait: this crowd are all staring at you. Silently. We’ve all been unnerved by a portrait watching us as we walk across the room, and Field multiplies that feeling by 35, 000.

Is this what it feels like to be a monarch, rock star, messiah, dictator? Do you feel scared? Humbled? Are you looking behind you to check for Elvis? Or do you find yourself thinking home at last?

And answer me this: If one of the figures at the front waddles towards you, tugs your sleeve, and ask a question, what is that question?

For me it's: Why did you use so many plastic bags?

Whatever your question is, I'll bet it reveals some inner obsessions.

And aside from the Field's bio-psycho-social mojo, my sister, Louise, was one of the volunteers that set the little figures up when it was displayed at The British Museum a few years ago, so now it’s not a major work of art, it's part of the family.

I finally got to see the Field at Lincoln’s Usher Gallery in 2003. I recall the comments book in which one disgruntled visitor vented: “I have travelled 30 miles to look at the paintings of Peter De Wint only to find I cannot get in to see them because this pile of rubbish is here”.

Now for The Field in a Shoe Box...

So this summer holiday I decided it was time to introduce my kids to the Field through the medium of a shoe box and modelling clay. Here’s what we did.

Total spend £1.98 on two packs of modelling clay (the stuff that does not dry out) and an adult sized shoe box. We got our clay from The Works for 99p, woot!

We cut the clay into tubes about one inch long, each a blank waiting to be moulded into a little figure. My sister told me the terracotta figures were called Gorms, a term we happily adopted for our sculptures. In this raw state we called them Gormless.

Using fingers and thumbs, we squashed the tube into head and shoulders plus a flat bottom, so it would stand up.

We used a cocktail stick to make the eyes. Some were evil slanted eyes, others big round goblin eyes.

Our first Gorms waiting to be put in the shoe box. Note Ruby's alien Gorms with several eyes, and Emelia's super tall ones with Dr Seuss wobbly grins. It does take a while to do all the Gorms, so the more hands you can get involved, the better.

We cut a letterbox style hole in one end of the shoe box. A crucial part of the real Field is you are only allowed to look at the Gorms from one viewpoint. This is ours.

We positioned the Gorms in the box, facing the hole. You have to press them down quite a bit to get them to stick, so all our Gorms ended-up with quite fat bottoms. We decided to mix all the colours together rather than segregate. Dad joined in at this point. Perhaps, like barbecues, Gorm planting is a Dad thing.

We then cut a large window in the shoe box lid to let the light in. You can cut round holes to make spot lights, or a big square hole covered in tracing paper for big, diffused light.

We looked through the hole, and this is what we saw.

And what did the kids think? Well we had a happy hour making the thing and all the whole family got involved, so smug-parent points earned there, I think. They loved the little Gorms like the colourful little munchkins they are, and soon made mummy and daddy Gorms and lots of little kiddie Gorms (which may be hard to see in the picture, but they are there).

They have also showed Field in a Shoe Box to every visitor that has come to the house since, and have told everyone that Aunty Lou Lou made the real one (sorry about that, Anthony).

So, as you can see, it's very easy to do. So have a go. And let me see the photos, too!