This spring and summer, three rooms at Barrington Court will be filled with Antony Gormley’s acclaimed work Field for the British Isles, consisting of 40,000 small clay figures.
Barrington Court in Somerset is one of five National Trust properties around the country to be chosen to exhibit a special selection of pieces on loan from the Arts Council Collection, the largest loan collection of modern and contemporary British art in the world, as part of the Trust New Art programme.
Barrington Court is normally empty of furniture and the three ground floor rooms will be transformed by the presence of the exhibition of Antony Gormley’s work.This is the first time that Field for the British Isles has been spread through three rooms. Antony Gormley is one of Britain’s foremost sculptors, his most famous work being the Angel of the North in Gateshead. His work frequently uses human figures, including several involving life sized cast iron figures. Barrington Court is no stranger to contemporary art, but Field for the British Isles is by far the most ambitious project to have been brought to the National Trust house.
Talking about Field coming to Somerset Antony Gormley said: “Field for the British Isles has been in the Arts Council Collection for years and has been seen in varied venues. I hope that at Barrington the impression that the work could go on forever as it reaches into inaccessible places works, so that it appears to have flooded the space. It’s good that the Trust commissions and shows new art. All art was contemporary once.”
Sonja Power, Barrington Court’s House and Collections Manager said. “The figures won’t just fill the rooms, they flow across them from wall to wall,” said ‘The house is normally empty spaces – now it has been brought to life by thousands and thousands of tiny people. We have had contemporary art at Barrington before but this is an entirely different scale. Even with the rest of the house still empty, it will make people look at Barrington in a very different way – and respond to Gormley’s installation in a new way as well.”
In keeping with the artist’s instructions, the installation will be set up by local people from across Somerset, who will be working with a team from the Arts Council Collection. Eight of the volunteers involved have been recruited from SCAT (Somerset College of Art and Technology). The Fine Art degree students all of them have a specific interest in installation and sculptural practice. Other volunteers work for South Somerset District Council’s arts and cultural unit while others volunteer already for the Trust at Barrington Court.
“Having local community involvement is integral to this work,” explained Paul Howard, who is managing in the installation for the National Trust.
“The figures were each made by the local community on Merseyside and here it is the people of Somerset who will be placing them in Barrington. Each figure is obviously hand made, very simple and yet they look back at you as you look into the rooms – and make the rooms feel so very different. They invade the rooms with their presence but also occupy the minds of those who see the installation, often creating an unexpected reaction.”
Antony Gormley said: “Field was my first collaborative work. The concept was mine, but it could not have been made without the help of many people. The instructions to create the work are very simple. You sit on the floor. You take a ball of clay from a pile. With your clay, you create a “body” in the space between your hands. You allow it to stand up, and make it conscious by giving it eyes with the point of a sharpened pencil. That repeated action of taking a hand-sized ball of clay, squeezing it between your hands, standing it up and giving it consciousness becomes meditative, the repeated action becoming almost like breathing, or a heartbeat.”
The figures were made by a community of families in St Helens, Merseyside, and Gormley won the Turner Prize in 1994 for his 1993 exhibition at Tate Liverpool which included Field. It has taken five days to set up the installation at Barrington Court.
Caroline Douglas, Head of the Arts Council Collection, said: “The Arts Council Collection has always been committed to showing works in the widest possible range of public buildings across the UK. We are delighted to be working with Barrington Court to bring Field for the British Isles to a new audience as part of the Trust New Art initiative.”
In addition to hosting the exhibition, Barrington Court will be running workshops for school groups and visitors who will make their own figures at the property.
Trust New Art is the National Trust’s 3-year programme in partnership with the Arts Council England to promote contemporary and modern art in its historic places.
Field for the British Isles has been loaned by the Arts Council Collection, as part of a new collaboration with the National Trust which will see five sites in the Trust’s care show modern and contemporary works from the Collection in selections that resonate with each site’s history and unique character.
© Ruth Zoe Andreas, all rights reserved