ANTONY GORMLEY: The work asks the three basic existential questions: ‘What are we?’, ‘Where do we come from?’, and ‘Where are we going?’
PAULINE YAO: Great artworks, what they can do is to make you . . . make audiences sort of re-examine or rethink their place in the world.
ANTONY GORMLEY: I wanted to do something very direct and very physical, and I started making small clay things. I think it was after making Field in Britain and the European Field in Malmö that I began to think, China is the future. This was going to be the biggest and the most spectacular of the works, because it had to represent China's size and population. My hope is that this collective field of earth that has been made conscious and been touched, in some way, makes you think about your relationship both to the past and the future.
I came here specifically in 1995 to try to find a way of doing it. I went to Jinan, went to Shandong Province to look at a variety of brick factories.
ANTONY GORMLEY: Three rules, you see: it’s hand-sized, it’s standing vertical, standing up, and the eyes are looking just above the horizon.
You have a lot of experience.
INTERPRETER: [Cantonese] They only have ideas, but you have the experience.
TAN JIAXIN: [Mandarin] At the time, I would have been in Year Six, about twelve years old. I was a primary school student then. Perhaps he wanted us to use our imagination and creativity to freely sculpt the clay.
TAN XUEJIAO: [Mandarin] He often mentioned keywords like 'connect' and 'heart’. When I pressed down into the clay, it felt like I was giving the figurine a heart. I think he was trying to connect the locals with their land in an intimate way. It was my first time participating in an art project with around 300 people, and I found it a very novel experience. It turns out that art can facilitate exchange between people in a special environment.
JIANG XIQUAN: [Cantonese] He needed clay that wouldn’t crumble and had a consistent colour. We extracted our clay from the mountains. Only clay rich in iron can turn red from firing.
JIANG JUWEN: [Cantonese] The key was in the pair of eyes. They need to look up towards the sky, as if they were deep in thought, exploring, contemplating the progress of humanity. Through the joint effort of our villagers and students, we created hundreds of thousands of clay figures. They were first exhibited in Guangzhou, and then around the world.
ANTONY GORMLEY: We are, even in Hong Kong, much more aware of, as it were, the mass, or the collective of humanity. And I find that very inspiring.
PAULINE YAO: I think it's also interesting to think about how the work is having a new life here in the museum. It's kind of made new again. It's given new sort of life, new sort of creative feeling from the people who are part of the participants as well as sort of reconnecting with the original makers.
We really wanted to find people to participate in the process from the very beginning to the end. We ended up having that through around twenty people.
CASPER LI: [Cantonese] Thinking back, they actually gave us a lot of freedom. We worked freely to put together the patterns and choose the figures. Some figures are lighter and some darker, and it was up to us to make comparisons. So, the process was delightful. because being be able to work freely with an artwork is a great satisfaction.
MICHELLE TAM: [Cantonese] Since this is clay, you can see how it was manipulated by the hand and how the texture was created. I would imagine how people made the figures. For example, some figures had a lot of pinch marks on the side, so I thought they looked like dumplings and wondered if their creator was used to making dumplings. I drew a lot of these associations.
MIKI HUI: [Cantonese] During the installation, I picked up the figures and found that some of the makers’ handprints matched my own. It made me realise how close our relationship could be. So I think . . . this is the feeling of connection.
JACKSON KWONG: [Cantonese] Stand at a specific position, and you will be able to see 200,000 figures. I think this reflects the world, or society. It’s not to say a large-scale artwork is just an abstract number. If you look closely, each figure has its own story. Some are signed. Some are bigger, and some are smaller. Some have special forms.
ANTONY GORMLEY: Very good. That's fantastic. I think you've got real grit. Anyway, carry on. Thank you so much. Really good work.
PAULINE YAO: It is a work that actually asks people to sort of slow down a little bit and to look and think about the connection one has to other people and other places and to the rest of the world.
ANTONY GORMLEY: Asian Field is a work that I hope gives voice to the voiceless and materialises a feeling of our present predicament in a time of migration, protest, overpopulation, and climate emergency. By reversing the normal dynamic between an artwork and its public, and making the viewer the focus of the art’s gaze, it hopefully asks us to be aware of our responsibility to the future, to the unborn, as well as to our forebears.
In 2003, British sculptor Antony Gormley invited some 300 residents of Xiangshan village (now Huadong Town in Guangzhou city) to make approximately 200,000 sculptures out of locally sourced clay. He offered only three simple instructions: each figurine was to be hand-sized, capable of standing upright, and have two eyes looking just above the horizon. Otherwise, each maker was free to improvise on their own.
In the end, the sculptures would be assembled into a sea of upward-turned faces, a ‘field’ that reflected the mass of humanity and the region's vast territory. The collective work, titled Asian Field, would go on to tour China and sites around the world before entering the M+ Collections in 2015.
As Pauline Yao (Lead Curator, Visual Art) and young local art practitioners readied the installation for display at Antony Gormley: Asian Field in 2021, the artist and some of the original makers looked back on what the experience of moulding this mass of figures meant to them, accompanied by archival footage of the production process and portraits by Zhang Hai’er.
- Produced by
- Video Production
Plate Creations Limited
- On-site Research and Coordination
- Transcript and Subtitle
Iyuno Media Group
- M+ Curatorial Research
Pauline J. Yao, Vera Lam, Jessie Kwok
- M+ Video Production
Elaine Wong, Jaye Yau, Chris Sullivan
- M+ Text Editing
Amy Leung, Gloria Furness
- Special Thanks
Xiangshan Village Council, Antony Gormley Studio, Jiang Huifang, Jiang Jianhua, Jiang Juwen, Jiang Xiquan, Tan Jiaxin, Tan Xuejiao, Igor Chan, Victor Chan, Sammi Cheung, Athena Chow, Joanna Fung, Vernon Ho, Miki Hui, Shannon Koo, Jackson Kwong, Vicky Lam, Doris Leung, Beata Li, Casper Li, Jess Li, Ringo Lo, Mui Hoi Ying, Michelle Tam, Charlie Tang, Bob To, Sunday Tsang, Kelvin Wong, Human Wu, Eva Zhu