Visit to Time Horizon at Houghton Hall

Time to see why this installation is already drawing record numbers of visitors.
We drove through the gates of Houghton Hall and joined a long line of cars very slowly making their way to the car park -proof this is a popular exhibition.
Luckily for us we had a picnic with us and there was plenty of time to munch our sandwiches as we edged along.
We started to spot naked iron men among the trees and in the fields all staring into the distance. Some on pillars, some on the ground and some immersed into the ground.
Having eventually parked the car we set off to “see the exhibition” which raised an interesting dilemma. We were surrounded by it.
We had already “seen” several figures and while there is a map available of the location of all the figures the point is not to see them as individuals.
So what had we come to see or experience?

There is no narrative -no obvious direction.

Conceived originally for a site in Italy, amongst olive trees at the site of a Roman settlement. The excavation had dug down to Roman ground level 1.64 metres below the present surface area. This difference in height gave the level for the placing of the figures so that all were standing on the present ground level, some on columns and some buried reflecting the levels of human occupation at the site.
Transplanted to Houghton Hall, the 100 life-size sculptures are placed across 300 acres of the park at the same datum level to create a single horizontal plane across the landscape.
This means again some works are buried, allowing only the head to be visible, while others are buried to the chest or knees according to the topography. Some stand on the existing surface and a quarter of the works are placed on varied height concrete columns.

Antony Gormley has stated
“I hope that what it means is that everybody that comes makes their own work, their own journey, their own connection between place, object and thought.”

This is exactly what happens as there is no beginning and no end.

The average visitor seems to start off wandering from sculpture to sculpture, pausing to regard them solemnly and eventually realising that they are all the same and yes they all have round disks on the chest and the buttocks. The iron, up close, is fantastically weathered.

The grounds of Houghton Hall have long vistas, areas closed in by hedges and woodland and landscape with scattered trees, so the figures appear and disappear as you walk around.
They have been absorbed by the landscape. Only their stillness stands out amongst the trees in the breeze, the deer in the distance and the movement of visitors.
One figure is inside the hallway of Houghton. It is half buried and it’s head is just the right height for people to give it an affectionate pat as they go by.

Antony Gormley stated he is questioning “What is the human relationship to the scheme of things at large. The human body is temporary and returns to the earth. Sculpture lacks freedom thought and emotion but have time on their side. The viewer becomes aware of their being in time.”

We eventually became aware that it was time for a cup of tea and a sit down after an afternoon of wandering and observing, We headed for the walled garden which is exceptionally beautiful at this time of year.
We reflected -what had it meant to spend an afternoon in the presence of so many carefully placed life size iron figures?
Is it about our relationship to place? The works face in all directions, never each other. Never the same view. Or our relationship to other people -in trying to remain on the same level some are put on pillars and some buried up to their necks?

Where does the time element come in? Is there a reference to previous generations. The figures buried to their necks will have their feet on previous solid ground?
They are still there gazing out, their view depending on how deeply they are buried or how high they are risen. All at the same level but devoid of any inner life.
We were glad we went, it encouraged us to ponder our place in the world, a reminder that we humans move on, we don’t stay confined to a single plane. Some of us might not last as long as an iron statue but our lives are infinitely varied, full of possibilities and we make our own landscape.

Michele Summers