Published  04/03/2003

Gormley in China

The 120,000 clay figures produced under Antony Gormley's direction by 300 Chinese workers in the Huada District of Guangzhou province, are shortly to travel to Beijing, where they will be marshalled into the Forbidden City, beside Tiananmen Square. This gathering, despite its apparent relevance to the 1989 uprising there, is to be exhibited in an audience room used by the Emperors. The work is entitled 'Asian Field', and follows the now much-loved 'Angel of the North' outside Newcastle, and the subsequent ‘Field for the British Isles’ shown at the Hayward Gallery in l993. 'Asian Field' is actually the result of an important British Council initiative, Art for a Dangerous World, which earlier saw Damien Hirst in to Slovenia and the Dundee Rep into Iran. It will be interesting to know what is planned for Iraq.
Gormley was influenced by the late Sir Ernst Gombrich. A discussion held under the aegis of their mutual publisher, Phaidon Press in l996 revealed a rich and eloquent mutual admiration, and Gormley's 'Field for the British Isles' particularly interested Gombrich in terms of the basis of perception. Gombrich applied to the work the principles of 'Topffer's Law' — the concept that expressiveness is not dependent on observation or skill, but on actual ‘self-observation’. Topffer was an early enthusiast and developer of the comic strip. As Gormley has argued, Gombrich actually successfully used the principle of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein here, ‘Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must be silent’, as no doubt to be epitomised by the crowds in Tiananmen Square.

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