Skiing and sculpture in St Anton, Austria

This is one of the strangest things I’ve ever come across while skiing:

He stands under a cliff to the right of a major slope at St Anton, Austria, where I spent a sunny week in early April.

Another sculpture, very similar but wearing a light ski jacket, can be found perched on a precipice almost directly under one of the lifts.  I wanted to get a photo of that one, but didn’t want to run the risk of fumbling the camera off the chair.

It’s the work of British artist Antony Gormley and is supposed to be a self-portrait.

Called Horizon Field, it consists of 100 life-sized, cast-iron sculptures each weighing 630 kg.  Forming a horizontal line at 2039 metres over an area of 150 square km in the mountains of western Austria, they at first seem so out of place.  But upon seeing them again and again that week, I came to look upon them as solid, loyal friends steadfast among the anonymous masses streaming by them.  I knew nothing about the installation before my week of skiing, but my reaction to it is pretty close to what the artist has said about  it:

It’s important to me that it’s the viewer who has a direct relationship with the sculpture. It’s important there’s no drama. I’m not putting them into a tableau. It’s called Horizon Field. They’re all facing a horizon, or making a horizon themselves.

I also think they act as a perfect counterweight to the extremely commercial sport of skiing.  Though you’re high up in the mountains and close to nature, you’re still in city mode: constantly bombarded with advertising wherever you go as the industry tries to seduce you with its latest trends in ski clothing and gear.   Upon seeing the sculpture from afar for the first time I thought, OK, what’s this supposed to be an ad for?

An enormous amount of work that went in to setting it up – five years of planning and dozens of helicopter flights so 15 mountain rescue teams could install each sculpture.  Gormley has installed similar projects as far-flung as London and Australia, but says the mountain project will be last one.

Skiers and hikers can see them until August, 2012, when after about two and a half years of residence among the winter snows and summer green, they’ll be taken away.

12 Responses to “Skiing and sculpture in St Anton, Austria”

  1. April 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Taken away! To where? And why?

    • April 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

      That’s a good question. I don’t know… But I guess the deal he had with all the people he had to negotiate with just to set it all up was that they would be taken away after a certain length of time.

      Oh – slight correction. They will be up until April next year, not August.

  2. April 23, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I love these. The London ones feel somehow really cheeky because you would occasionally see one poking out where you didn’t expect it (so to speak); but I visited the ones at Crosby Beach (Liverpool, England) a few years ago where they were very striking – extremely serene and thought-provoking.

    • April 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      Hello Frau Dietz – these sculptures do get around, don’t they? I don’t very much, so it was the first I’d heard of them.🙂

      BTW, sorry it took so long for your comment to appear but I’ve been away in the countryside for a few days.

  3. April 26, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I’ve never heard of these, or the artist, or any of it. They’re wonderful. I mentioned to a commenter over at my place in another context that I used to equate “small and hidden” with “insignificant”. These seems to support my new conviction that it “ain’t necessarily so”.

    And the title – “Horizon Field”… We don’t pay enough attention to horizons. I experienced a false horizon at sunset a couple of years ago and could have ended up dead on the road. Well, off the road, more likely. I’d forgotten about that. I wonder if Gormley’s friends are experiencing false horizons or true?🙂

  4. April 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    It is an optical illusion. In my case, I was driving toward the west, just before sunset. There was a line of worn foothills directly ahead of me, and when the bottom of the setting sun touched the top of that ridgeline, it “exploded”. Neither my passenger nor I could see anything but light – not the road, the car behind, the hills. We were completely blinded and there was nowhwere to look to get away from it.

    It only lasted a few seconds, but it was terrifying. I learned later it was a normal sunset “writ large”. Just as the sun or moon will “enlarge” at the horizon when rising or setting under normal circumstances, the sun enlarged that night – but the “horizon” was the ridgeline, far closer to us than the normal horizon. When the sun hit that false horizon, it was so much closer it was much larger. We were just in the right (or wrong!) place to experience it.

    • April 27, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Sounds frightening. We were blinded the other day while driving on a city street. An old jeep with a perfectly flat windshield was parked at just the perfect angle to reflect the sun’s rays down the street we were driving. It was impossible to see at all.

  5. April 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks for the link to his website. His work is fantastic

  6. May 4, 2011 at 5:27 am

    Personally, I don’t like these ‘things’. I live right across the border in Germany and while hiking came across the statues quite a few times already and every time I was irritated: ‘What is this thing doing here? Who puts garbage in our great landscape?’ was my reaction every single time.

    Good thing they will be removed soon. I’ll be celebrating🙂

    • May 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm

      It’s better to have a temporary art exhibit with a purpose than to permanently destroy landscape with strip malls, gas stations, etc. Now THAT’s garbage. We’ve been tooling down the Autobahn between Hamburg and Osnabrück every few weeks for the past 13 years. It used to be a beautiful drive, but it seems there’s a new Autohof going up every other month. We ask ourselves the same thing: what’s THAT thing doing here? It is SO ugly now, and it will remain that way forever.

  7. May 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Good point!
    I suddenly like the Gormleys a lot more. Will think about it next time we go hiking back there🙂

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