What are 40,000 terracotta people doing in Colchester?

Antony Gormley, Field for the British Isles, 1993. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

Antony Gormley, Field for the British Isles, 1993. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. Acquired in 1995 with the assistance of the Art Fund and The Henry Moore Foundation Picture: ANTONY GORMLEY - Credit: ANTONY GORMLEY

Thousands of terracotta figures are coming to an art gallery in Colchester as Antony Gormley’s Turner Prize-winning installation comes to Firstsite.

Field for The British Isles, which consists of 40,000 knee-high individual terracotta figures, has been displayed in the biggest galleries in the UK, including the British Museum and the Tate Liverpool.

Coming to Firstsite on November 15, it is the largest single artwork in the Arts Council collection and will be uniquely arranged for a one-of-a-kind exhibition until March 8, 2020.

Field for The British Isles was made by Gormley in 1993 from a mountain of brick clay with over 100 volunteers who were invited to find their own form for each figure following three simple instructions: "hand-sized, stand up and have eyes".

Now, in every gallery it is displayed, the figures are arranged differently to suit the space they occupy.

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Firstsite Director Sally Shaw said: "Field for the British Isles comprises 40,000 figures and there are 40,000 children and young people living in Colchester.

"This work is an ideal way to represent the scale of the local population and the responsibility adults have to ensure that Colchester's youngsters are given every opportunity and the necessary support to fulfil their potential."

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At each location the thousands of small figures are always installed to resemble a dense carpet, with each figure looking directly at the viewer.

In Firstsite the figures will fill the rear half of the building, including throughout the main gallery spaces, so visitors will always be watched by the installation.

Ms Shaw hopes the artwork echoes and underlines Firstsite's abiding vision of creativity, equality and opportunities for all.

Installation of this monumental artwork at Firstsite will be achieved by a team of community volunteers. Access to the exhibition is free of charge.

Gormley, who won the Turner Prize in 1994 after this work was created, currently has a major solo exhibition at The Royal Academy.

Gormley himself said of the artwork: "Thirty tonnes of clay energised by fire, sensitised by touch and made conscious by being given eyes - a field of gazes which looks at the observer making him or her its subject."

As critic Adrian Searle said of the work in 1996: "This close-packed crowd, a sea at one's feet, is a reminder that the world's entire population could stand on the Isle of Wight, shoulder to shoulder.

"Gormley has said that one of the resonances of this work is that it is a reminder that there is only one humanity."

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