Antony Gormley’s eagerly awaited exhibition Time Horizon, made up of 100 life-size sculptures in the grounds of Houghton Hall, opens this month. Rowan finds out more from the acclaimed Norfolk-based sculptor

The bodies are buried across the parkland – for some, just a head is visible, resting on the ground, others are shown chest up, waist up, or full length. Naked statues stalk the lawn, emerge from parkland, stand on plinths.

It is an arresting sight.

World-renowned sculptor Antony Gormley, who lives just 10 miles away in West Acre, has brought his work, Time Horizon, to Houghton Hall.

This is the first time the spectacular large-scale installation has been shown in the UK.

A hundred life-size cast-iron figures, based on the artist’s own body, emerge from the parkland surrounding Houghton Hall. Some are near the house, others more than a mile away, each meticulously, mathematically, sited to create a single horizontal plane across the grand estate so that each figure is level with all the others. Those on the lowest land stand tall while figures on rising ground are submerged to their knees, chest, neck or head. Others are elevated on concrete columns varying in height from a few centimetres to four metres.

Great British Life: Time Horizon, work in progress.Time Horizon, work in progress. (Image: Supplied)

Houghton Hall has developed a reputation for staging big, important landscape sculpture shows and Antony Gormley said: ‘My ambition for this show is that people should roam far and wide. Art has recently privileged the object rather than the experience that objects can initiate.

Time Horizon is not a picture, it is a field and you are in it.

‘The work puts the experience of the subject/visitor/protagonist on an equal footing with all material presences, organic and inorganic. The quality of the light, the time of the year, the state of the weather and the condition of your mind, body and soul are all implicated in the field, as is all the evidence within it of human activity already accomplished as well as the plethora of life forms that surround the hall.’

He first visited the estate, owned by David Cholmondeley, Marquess of Cholmondeley, around 15 years ago. ‘We stayed with David and Rose at Houghton Hall for the weekend,’ he said.

‘This was the first time that I had visited Norfolk since going to a friend's wedding on leaving Cambridge in 1971. I was delighted by the openness of the countryside, the unspoiled nature of the villages and a feeling of continuity.’

Soon the sculptor had moved to West Acre, near Swaffham. ‘Somebody told us that a house that would work well as studio was up for sale, we came and fell in love with it immediately,’ he said. ‘Vicken, my partner and also an artist, and I both love being somewhere where we can grow things, ride horses, walk and cycle in all directions and continually find new things to delight us, from the song of skylarks, the silent beauty of old churches and the undying country ways of thinking, being and doing.

‘We also love the sea – so walking on the beach and marsh paths from Burnham Overy Staithe to Holkham, and then back through the woods, gives us great joy.’

Great British Life: Sir Antony Gormley and Lord Cholmondeley at the installation of Time Horizon at Houghton HallSir Antony Gormley and Lord Cholmondeley at the installation of Time Horizon at Houghton Hall (Image: Pete Huggins)

Antony’s work often explores the relationship between the human body and space and he has described Time Horizon as a form of acupuncture.

Its figures puncture, punctuate and interact with their surroundings, drawing the entire landscape into the art work, from individual trees to the architecture of the lavish mansion and from the herd of deer which roams the parkland to the ever-changing weather.

Each is a cast taken from mouldings of the artist’s body. ‘I think of them as industrially made fossils that register a particular body at a particular time,’ he said. ‘There are 23 different mouldings that are subtly different, some with fully inflated chests, others less so, some with arms and hands straight and stiff, others relaxed with cupped hands.’

And each is a whole body, whether partially submerged or elevated. ‘They are all on a horizontal plane determined by one of the body-forms that is let into the paving of the hall’s ground floor,’ said Antony.

Time Horizon, previously shown across an ancient Roman archaeological site in southern Italy, is one of the sculptor’s most spectacular installations. His work is in public and private collections worldwide. His Angel of the North towers, wings outstretched, over the A1 road at Gateshead, and the life-size figures of his Another Time, are buried and revealed by each tide at Crosby Beach, near Liverpool.

Great British Life: Angel of the North by Antony Gormley. Angel of the North by Antony Gormley. (Image: Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0)Great British Life: Another Place by Antony Gormley. Another Place by Antony Gormley. (Image: habiloid/Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0)

Event Horizon, made up of 31 casts of his own body, has been shown on top of prominent buildings along London's South Bank, around New York City's Madison Square, and in Brazil and Hong Kong. In 2009 the sculptor orchestrated the One & Other installation for the vacant Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square in which 2,400 people, chosen by lot, spent an hour as living art.

Here in Norfolk three of his figures are part of the Sainsbury Centre’s sculpture park on the University of East Anglia campus. He was knighted in 2014 and has been awarded many international art prizes including the Turner Prize. Houghton Hall owner David Cholmondeley, Marquess of Cholmondeley, said: ‘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.’

Houghton Hall was built 300 years ago for Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Great Britain and inherited by the Cholmondeley family at the end of the 18th century. It is the family home of Lord Cholmondeley and his wife Rose and their twin sons and daughter.

Great British Life: Houghton HallHoughton Hall (Image: Hugo Glendinning)

Other world-renowned artists who have exhibited their work here include Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and James Turrell.

There is also a permanent sculpture trail made up of work by some of the foremost sculptors and landscape artists in the world.

Antony highlighted a few favourites saying: ‘I love both the great slate disc and the stump circle of Richard Long, the Sky Space of James Turrell, the great spiral marble column of Claudio Parmiggiani, Stephen Cox's tomb with its dark interior and Rachel Whiteread's wonderful cast of the inside of an old woodshed.’

He is still exploring new ways of sculpting the human body. ‘Time Horizon is made of masses of iron in human form that are about seven and a half times the weight of my body. I am busy trying to make works that treat the body as energy rather than mass. It's exciting to evoke the body as a field with no edge. We are calling these new works ‘aerials' and they look a bit like the evolution of transmitting or receiving aerials that have grown organically.’

Antony Gormley: Time Horizon is at Houghton Hall from April 21 to October 31.

Houghton Hall and Gardens are open to the public from April 21 on Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Bank Holiday Mondays. Tickets are £22 online, £24 at the gate, £10 students, under 18s free.

An exhibition by ceramic artist Magdalene Odundo will run at Houghton Hall from June 9 to September 29. It will include new work made and sited in response to the state rooms at Houghton Hall and previous pieces chosen to complement the architecture and design of the rooms. There will also be a new piece created during her residency at Wedgwood, exploring the history of the company and the role of founder Josiah Wedgwood in the abolition of slavery, and the continuing battle for racial equality. Magdalene’s exhibitio The Journey of Things was a hit at the Sainsbury Centre in 2019.