Do We Really Need Sculptures in Nature to Remind Us of People's Place in It?

antony gormley sculpture alps photo

Part of sculptor Antony Gormley's "Horizon Field" installation in the Austrian Alps. Photo via The Independent.

Hikers huffing and puffing to reach a remote, secluded spot in the Alps this summer may be a bit disappointed as they approach to see a figure already there ahead of them, enjoying the view. If they're traipsing in the mountains above the ski resort of Lech in western Austria, though, that solitary figure may not be a fellow hiker at all, but a life-size cast-iron sculpture.Well-known British sculptor Antony Gormley has placed 100 such "iron men" -- each weighing 630 kilograms -- throughout a 150-square-kilometer area of the Austrian Alps, some up to several kilometers high in the famous mountain range, in what The Guardian calls an "operation so complex that it required the involvement of the Austrian army, 15 mountain rescue teams, dozens of helicopter flights and five years of planning":

Some have been installed in sites accessible to hikers, or skiers in the winter. Others are unapproachable, placed on particularly remote and steep ridges, though visible from certain vantage points. One of them is on an almost vertical cliff-face. Such was the difficulty of the installation that it is believed to have cost £500,000.

Unveiled in July, the two-year installation, called "Horizon Field," requires a bit more from viewers than just peeking their heads into a gallery. "It's going to be a very annoying attraction and will involve an enormous amount of very fruitless walking and sweat," Gormley told The Independent. "At the same time, if this is the catalyst for getting people off their arses, then it's a good thing."

Many of the artist's previous works have utilized the human body. He famously (or infamously) created a living art installation in London's Trafalgar Square by scheduling members of the public to stand in one-hour shifts on an empty pedestal for 100 days. And his "silent witnesses" -- the iron figures cast from his own body -- have traveled to many other places around the world, although he says the Alps are their last stop.

antony gormley horizon field photo

Part of the "Horizon Field" installation. Image via Art & Artworks.

"We are all aware that we are coming to the point where there will be 10 billion human beings on this planet," Gormley told the BBC. "The big question that I'm asking with all of these works is, 'where does the human project fit, in the scheme of things?""

The bare, expressionless statues in the Alps, which will begin to rust as rains and snow fall, are meant to remind people of their own vulnerability and fragile place in nature, says the artist, who has called the work "an environmental project."

'We Are So Small in this Beautiful Nature Here'
A German tourist interviewed by the BBC seemed to agree, saying: "At first when I saw them I think they are so little, they are too small! But then I saw they are our size and we are so small in this beautiful nature here."

It's hard not to wonder, though, whether simply the act of being amidst those grand mountains and green valleys shouldn't be enough to fill a hiker with awe and respect for human's smallness in the grand scheme of things. Have we really become so detached from our own bodies and their interaction with nature that we need to to see ourselves mirrored in sculptural form to get a sense of our place in the natural world while standing smack in the middle of it?

More on environmental art:
What the Heck is Eco-Art? 10 Ways to Appreciate It
With Spectacular Stick Sculptures by Patrick Dougherty, Art and Nature Collide (Slideshow)
Famous Chinese Artist Paints Polluted Waters
Amazing Land Art by Andrew Rogers (Slideshow)
Man and Nature: Art in the Age of Climate Change
How Can Eco-Art Inspire Change?
An Ice Artist's Poignant Plea to Halt Global Warming
8 Amazing Environmental Artworks (Slideshow)
Top 5 Environmental Artists Shaking Up the Art World

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