When Addressing Field for British Isles…

Field for British Isles, Antony Gormley, 1993. Terra-cotta figures 80 x 260 cm each; installation of variable size.

I don’t know if you care for me to speak; your attention, your collective expectancy tells me that you do, but your silence, instead of inviting me to break it, asks and expects more of the same. You wait for my complete compliance, but I could never be as still. And also, you don’t have ears. Some of you (I say you for lack of a better pronoun, being as you don’t have names, individually or collectively, you fall quite clearly outside of any category — animate or inanimate — that I am aware of, your unified gaze prevents my engaging any one of you in more direct or familiar conversation, and an ambiguous you reads much nicer than you all or the awkward people which also would be presumptuous and inaccurate being as you are I
know not what but clearly inhuman) do have notches or grooves on the sides of your head which could imply ears, but they could just as easily imply gills, bullet-holes, or leprosy, and since not all of you have them, and I prefer to include you all, I will assume you can not hear me. This I have decided, but not deduced, because I still have not spoken.

I promise I won’t speak. There is an impulse to obliterate all this noisy silence and replace it with the rolling bass-lines of my voice, but the longer I stand here I grow accustomed to this, your imposing quiet and my tempered impulse. What would you do if I shouted out? What would you think if I invaded your comfortable silence with pure human sound: a sung note, a belch, a hum. You wouldn’t do a thing. Still you’d be standing there (though you don’t even have legs for standing), unexpressively watching me and waiting for my appropriate something or other. You would remain unchanged and unmarked by my assertion, while your non-responsiveness, your stubborn immobility despite the weight of my attempt to move, would diminish me, would send me away in shame and embarrassment. Silence resumed is more powerful than it was before: it is silence won. And silence will always win; like the ground beneath us, and the clay from which you appear to have been made, it is to what and to where all living things return; there is silence, there are cries, but then again there is silence, and a silence containing, like the stillness of earth bloated by remains of the once living, evidence of its superiority.

So I don’t know what I’m doing here, though I’m doing nothing save for the standing, regarding, and consciously not doing. You seem to want something from me, expect something from me. Are you waiting for Hitler? Are you the throng gathered to hear him speak? They’d face him, millions facing, open faces, opening up, filling up, filled. Of course that was Christ’s power as well — the three thousand guests, unfed he fed, unquenched he quenched, filled. They faced him, as they faced Hitler, for it is what throngs always do, they face and listen and wait. You, throng, you face and listen and wait. But whereas these men knew their people, and knew what words would please and knew what message would fill the openings, and at the very least could be certain that their audience was paying nominal attention, I look out on you and suspect you’d be the same if I weren’t here at all. At least graves bulge. What can I say? Should I say? You expect, do you not? You face, you are open (for each of you possess two hollows where my eyes would fill), you even angle your hollows towards me. You wait. Waiting for my address? Or observing its containment. Or anticipating either. That is it, am I right? You’re preparing to listen. Waiting for when it’s necessary to hear. But as I’m waiting or watching you for something more, for some prompt or cue, you remain, preparing, unlistening. The anti-cue. You keep me from speaking. The silence of your anticipation steals the language from my tongue. Stolen so completely that I’m left listening, rapturously, to your undivided attention.

And I realize I have nothing worth saying, nothing worthy of your posture, nothing more powerful than the perfect solidarity of your silence, nothing to equal your clear, direct, and orthodox creation — you exist, collectively and solely, to await an addresser with a message worthy of your gathering. Thus this silence, a silence more distinct than in any public art space I’ve ever visited. I am awed and shamed and intimidated by the persistence of your expectation. You were made doubtless. Faith in clay. I was made from the same soil, but in the image of God whom I thus learned to envy and imitate, I was made in shadow of Him, and so am defined in every way by Him.
You though, you are created without image, virtually shapeless, pre-formed. You await definition. I am not up for the task. None here in this room is. You are creations before God, or were left by Him; figures of real transition. Who will be your God? When will It arrive? Will It complete you in Its image, will you complete It, or will you together create images anew.

You are somewhere between earth and man, related to both, belonging to neither. You are trees bent towards the sun, living and expressive in their way, but inanimate and still; uniquely made but uniformly arranged. Once this whole country was forest, from crown to foot a green wood of silent stationary trees. Now these are gone; there are movable, malleable, mortal figures in their place. There is compromise. You are also Chinese sculpted soldiers, clay figures rising from the earth, a field. But you are not clones of the once living, you mean neither trees nor monuments. None have existed before you, you resemble nothing and are thus living, variously alive. You all, you thousands, watching. At me, over me, past me. I watch. At you, no you, no the one next to you,past that one, there, no, I can barely see you. I cannot decipher the individual amongst the collective. And when I do, I define the individual against the rest. I wonder what I’d think of any of you in isolation, as a single figurine emptied of your comrades, alone in a room this big. I close my eyes and see this. You are small, broadly formed, hunched a bit, reddish orange, fragile and vulnerable to the massive floor, walls, and air around you. You are a child abandoned, and I want to speak words of encouragement and comfort. You are fragile and wise, you can teach me unexpected things and become a part of me to carry on and then forget once larger figures take over the space. You are E.T., Speilbergian, you exist there for me, conjure contemplation and provoke my own sense of sensation. You are my little friend, my symbol, my key chain, my little Buddha, my good luck charm. You are a messenger bottle, a shooting star of David. What can I make of you? You are small and vacant, and I can make so many things. I’m also distracted and begin to think of more important things: my appearance, my acquaintances, my appetite. You are special, my little buddy, you’ll always remain in my heart, but I know what to do with you because I can do with you. You’re portable, possessable, limitable, dismissible.

Then I open my eyes again and I am shocked, silenced, stilled, afraid. I feel I must back away. Surely you are approaching. You haven’t changed, you remain waiting; hopeful. I have nothing for you. I came, I now know, with nothing you can use. In thirty years I will have wizened, but to you this will be invisible growth, and you will continue as you are, perfect in faith and expectation, your vigil of integrity needless of me, of my words and perceptions, of my form. You are ever
looking past — me, us — while I am stuck in, between, among, my visual gaze to your physical forms of clay. You are forms. You form space and meaning like nothing I’ve ever seen. You’ll remain the same. I’m changed. But inert in my isolation. You were made how we live our lives to maybe someday come to suggest before we’re expired. Yours is the hymn of the half-formed, the perfection of transition, the arrival of expectation.

Eric Hynes (© 2002)