Sir Antony Gormley’s iron army

One hundred rusting iron figures cutting through an ancient Norfolk landscape form a spectacular large-scale installation by Sir Antony Gormley, newly opened at Houghton Hall

Throughout the parkland of Houghton Hall, subtly different sculptures are buried in the landscape, elevated on concrete columns or occasionally placed at ground level. An iron body submerged in the flagstone floor among the majestic columns of the Hall’s grand entrance is the ‘datum figure’, which sets the level for all 99 others. They create a single horizontal plane across the Estate’s 300 acres, drawing attention to the changing topography of the land. 

The sculptures challenge our perception of the Norfolk landscape by cutting through the visible surface and encouraging reflection on deeper time. 

“My ambition was to make the house into a picture of itself, floating on the apparent surface of the world while the work interrogates it,” Sir Antony Gormley explained to KL Magazine. “These works connect to the laying down of the chalk layers before the four great ice ages. That, in a way, is the real landscape design.”

The figures gaze into empty space, each designed to be nothing more than an object until the viewer moves among them and activates the experience. Like the fossilised footprints found on Happisburgh beach, they make you think about what it is to be human in a landscape formed over many millennia. 

“It’s called Time Horizon because it’s an attempt to put human biological time in the context of sidereal planetary time,” Antony says. “The subject of the work is not in the work, it’s in the viewer. I think of the viewer as a participator in this open field of experience that demands that you walk. And as you walk, you maybe feel and think. You really concentrate on your own experience and think about all these layers of human history and geological time.”

Each of the life-size sculptures have been cast from one of 23 different moulds of Gormley’s own body, industrially produced in a West Midlands foundry and originally installed in Catanzaro, Italy, in 2006. Placed here among classic marble busts, perfectly pleached treelines and beautifully clipped hedges they should seem out of place – but they’re not. 

“For me, the challenge was: how do we accept an invitation like this without just reinforcing the design that is already here?” Antony asks. “It took me a while to think about how I could do it where the house and the layout of the landscape was interrogated, rather than simply being decorated.”

PICTURES: A spectacular large-scale installation, Time Horizon features 100 life-size sculptures distributed across 300 acres at the Houghton Estate. Houghton Hall’s proud owner Lord Cholmondeley (left) and Sir Antony Gormley (right). © Pete Huggins.

My ambition was to make the house into a picture
of itself

Antony describes the installation as a form of acupuncture. It interacts with the surroundings; the gardens, the house, the running deer,
the other sculptures, the changing weather. The stillness of the figures encourages us to really see, feel and reflect upon the things around us. 

Antony Gormley is widely considered as one of the most important artists of his generation. His sculptures, installations and public artworks can be seen across the UK and internationally, including the Angel of the North in Gateshead and the iron figures on Crosby Beach near Liverpool titled Another Place. 

The relationship between the human body and the space around us is at the centre of Antony’s work, which has been awarded many important accolades including the Turner Prize in 1994. Sir Antony was also made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1997 and a Knight in the New Year’s Honours list in 2014. 

Antony has a residence in Norfolk and holds a great fascination for the deep history of East Anglia, which has in part inspired Time Horizon. “Norfolk is an extraordinary place,” he says. “That story of the end of the ice age; you still sense in the landscape that this is where the great ice sheets came to rest after those four great periods of glacial maximum. I think that’s the thing that I love about Norfolk. You feel these ancient connections between this part of England and the continent that only separated, in geological terms, very recently.”

There are a number of interesting contemporary art installations situated across the Houghton Hall parkland putting Time Horizon in good company. Lord Cholmondeley, owner of Houghton Hall and the Houghton Arts Foundation, is steadily building a thought-provoking collection of great artists’ work to place within the historic setting and award-winning gardens of the Estate. 

“Lord Cholmondeley saw the potential of this landscape as a place for the celebration of contemporary sculpture. He has turned into the most extraordinary curator in a context that is unmatched, in my view, anywhere in Britain,” Antony says.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to show this large-scale work by Antony Gormley for the first time in the UK. The 100 life-size sculptures will cover a much larger area than our previous shows, allowing visitors to experience more of the historic landscape surrounding the house,” Lord Cholmondeley says. “Just to walk amongst them is exciting and extraordinary.”

Launched on 21st April, Time Horizon at Houghton Hall will be open for visitors to admire until 31st October 2024. Visit for more information. 

PICTURE: © Theo Christelis

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