Figure in a landscape . . . part of Antony Gormley’s Horizon Field, near Lech in the Austrian Alps. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
It started as a whim and ended up taking five years.
Last Sunday morning a band of assorted folk set out on a walk across the base of Mohnenfluh in the Bregenzerwald. The 2,544m mountain is at the centre of a high dilution of sculpture, over a wide and varied field of alpine meadows that catch the slanting sunlight and seem to be made of a deep velvet; gypsum sinks that hide micro-climates of secret ferns where greedy flies suck the nectar from the heavy heads of cow parsley; bright streams that run from the ice-melt into shining falls that turn the grey schist black; deep forests of high-reaching pine; and among the craggy heights the occasional glimpse of ibex or wild sheep. It was a bright morning, the sky a deep blue, the air clear and completely still, given depth by the dull clonking of cow-bells on the udder-stretched alpage-grazers: subtly beige-shaded Braunvieh who with their big brown eyes occasionally left off their chomping to stare at us. High above are the peaks – occasionally shadowed by cloud but mostly sharply outlined against the infinite blue.
In the summer of 2005, at the invitation of Eckhard Schneider, of the Kunsthaus Bregenz, my wife Vicken and I went to wander in the mountains of Vorarlberg to see if it was possible to install a multiple-body work there. We stayed in a wooden house in Sonnendach above Bezau on top of a cellar filled with Bergkäse. A man called Winfried came every two days at dawn to wash the cheeses with salt and turn them over. There was something immediately euphoric about the silence and clear air of those days spent walking. I didn’t realise then that the project we were beginning would take so long to finish.
Horizon Field comprises 100 iron body forms, weighing 630kg each, spread over seven valleys and 150 square kilometres at a height of 2,039m, creating a field that makes its own horizon, the last of my attempts to ask a simple question in material terms: “Where does the human being fit in the scheme of things”? In 1997 I made Another Place for the Wattenmeer, the extensive tide plane of Cuxhaven, as part of an exhibition organised by Schneider (then of the Kunsthaus Hannover) and 10 years later, I installed Event Horizon in London, which this spring moved to New York; 31 sculptures: four on the ground and 27 against the skyline. By now placing this work in the geological frame of the mountains I wanted to contrast the flat, uninscribed horizon of the sea and the high-density high-rise populated world of New York with this installation in the vastness of the western Austrian Alps: where the Widderstein, Kanisfluh, Kriegerhorn and Ohmeshorn peaks would become the context for this last “field”.
Sculpture doesn’t need a roof or a label. You don’t need to pass over the threshold of an institution in order to experience something that engages your imagination and, with luck, your body. When placed in the outdoors in rain and sunshine, in summer and winter, in daylight and moonlight, sculpture, in my view, begins to live and its silence becomes a potent marker in time and space. People may well ask “What the hell is this thing doing here?” and the work returns that question and it responds reflexively “What the hell are you doing here?”
Vicken and I found the height for the work on the last day of our stay in 2005: Seekopf, a small grassy mound to the west of Widderstein. It was in the middle but above the tree line, neither high nor low, nor in the inhabited valleys, nor on the cross-topped peaks. Here the work could be embedded and lost in space. It could make implicit its horizon, but it would always need seeking out, needing the active looking and perhaps not finding of its walking, thinking, feeling viewer/participants. I love the way the work looks when it is wet from rain, when it stands as a dark silhouette against a field of newly made snow, when it is dried and rusty standing red against the blue of an alpine sky and exposed not only to the elements but also to the imaginations of those who come across it.
Horizon Field was realised after 17 different proposal maps and more than 2 years of negotiation with environment agencies, local hunters and farmers, ski resort owners, mountaineers and the village pasturage associations, so last weekend there was a lot to celebrate…
Am I ambivalent about this work? Indeed yes I am.