Antony Gormley’s work has always hinted at an archeological reading of the human body. At the age of 44, he won the prestigious Turner Prize for Field, an installation of 40,000 terracotta figures blanketing the floor of the gallery. Later, in 2009's Clay and the Collective Body, he installed a 180-ton square of clay in a Helsinki venue and let visitors have their way with it, creating hundreds of tiny clay artifacts as the chunk dwindled.
Compared to those earthy and timeless pieces, Gormley’s latest large-scale show is as foreign as the sleek black monolith in 2011: A Space Odyssey. Horizon Field Hamburg, which wrapped up last month, invited 100 visitors at a time to explore a 12,000-square-foot black platform, suspended inside of a turn-of-the-century industrial market hall near Hamburg’s harborfront. The super-reflective plane reflected whatever was above it, including the elegant steel vaults of the Deichtorhallen, the turn-of-the-century structure that once housed a bustling market. The platform, hanging from eight strands of steel rope, was just unsteady enough to induce an odd disorientation.
"The idea is that this is a test ground for human life," says Gormley, who is 62 and works in the U.K. "Human life elevated on an unstable platform, within stable architecture." It’s interesting to see how people react to the expansive plane—some jump and dance, others sit down, still others choreograph moves with their peers. The Deichtorhallen, as a piece of architecture, has seen its share of massive upheaval. The two 1913 market halls, which are a surprisingly successful compromise between Art Nouveau whimsy and Bauhaus rigor, are all that remain of the grand railway station that predated the World Wars.
As an architectural intervention, Horizon Field faintly echoes Mies van der Rohe, who used reflective marble and glass as material metaphors for earth and heaven. Mies wanted every person who walked through the grand lobby of his office buildings to know they were participating in a drama of spiritual import. Gormley speaks in metaphysical terms about his piece, too. "This entire project could be seen as the translation of a vast painting into a literal sounding board for the spirit and consciousness of the viewer," he says. "There is no subject to this work other than the people who participate in and on it."