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Biennale Effort

Antony Gormley's Asian Field credit Zhang Hai'er

I have arrived in Sydney jet lagged, dazed yet alert and ready to post when I recieved a call to say volunteers are required to set up the Biennale Exhibition Installation, Asian Feild, by Antony Gormley – would I be able to assist? Well, what does one do? You guessed it, I raced off to become a part of a small team setting up 190,000 figurines as part of this immense piece.

The installation comprises numerous hand sized clay figurines to be assembled in a 2000 square metre space at Pier 2/3. They were made under the guidance of the artist by 350 people including children, from the Xiangshan village in south China. Each person made from 600 to 1000 figures. Made of local clay known for its rich red colouring they were fired in kilns of a local brick-making factory in March 2003. Gormely gives a romantic interpretation of the making process and the inclusion of individuals of another 'culture'. He is enraptured by the potentiality of process and the variation of outcome – nice. According to Gormley,

Field is part of a global project in which the earth of a particular region is given form by a group of local people of all ages. It is made of clay, energised by fire, sensitised by touch and made conscious by being given eyes.

During the installation of the work numerous crates of these figures had to be sorted into grades of colour, size and types of figures – there are special 'star-gazers' who look upward to the sky – a labour intensive task performed by volunteers (a great number of whom are students). However, one must not imagine that this group of people are not critical participants in the process and upon a much needed lunch break a number of students presented timely and pressing questions to Gormley who had taken the opportunity to engage the hungry audience to speak about his work.

Where Gormley saw the representation of the global community students saw the representation of the exploitation of the people of China, a country well known for its affordable labour and intensive work regime. Where Gormley saw individual expression (into each individual piece formed by hand) the students saw the emphasis of the crowd (as in 'field') and de-individuation. Where Gormley saw the opportunity of cultural exchange and global communication the students saw yet another form of imperialism – of which Gormley was not aware. From a conversation I had with one student, he expressed his respect for the project whilst it was performed and displayed in China yet takes issue with the work being displayed in the new contexts and toured to other cities.

It is imperative that students remain critical at all times – even in the event where (as was described to me when voluntering) you are faced by a 'once in a life-time experience'. The Biennale of Sydney is a Priemier Event on the Sydney Art Calendar that can leave you awed by it's scope, the work and the artists represented. It is like the celebrity guest list if art and Antony Gormley is a high profile artist. I was very pleased to see this group challenge the artist and present their personal perspectives on the work. I applaud their bravery.

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