AN exhibition at Colchester’s Firstsite gallery has been described as “probably the most important artwork we could be showing in the UK”.

A sculpture of 40,000 tiny terracotta figures by Sir Antony Gormley has gone on display at the gallery.

Sir Antony, who also created the Angel of the North, has described it as a “call to conscience”.

Field for the British Isles was made in 1993 from about 50 tonnes of brick clay by more than 100 volunteers at a secondary school.

The initial volunteers who made the sculpture were given just one simple instruction: Hand-sized, stand up and have eyes.

It is now on show at Firstsite after 30 people spent four days putting each of the tiny figures in place.

Gurkhas, students and members of a Bangladeshi women’s organisation helped install the piece and “all worked together as one team”.

The Turner Prize winner, who is a critic of the UK leaving the EU, said it was a time of “national madness” and descrbing Brexit as a “disease”.

Firstsite director Sally Shaw said: “This is probably the most important artwork we could be showing in the UK.

“It’s about community and being together and also about thousands and thousands of individual people.”

She joked about visitors getting close-up to the fragile piece, saying: “I am more worried about adults coming in.

“Children are very excited about it.

“They stop and lie down on the floor to be on a level with it.

“What I love about it is there are 40,000 figures and 40,000 children and young people living in Colchester. It’s an opportunity to visualise that community. It’s very powerful.

“I’d invite everyone to come. It might be another 20 years before we show it again.

“This is the kind of artwork this gallery was made for.”

Sir Antony accepted there might not quite be so many figures after the exhibition.

Asked whether some of the tiny clay individuals had been stolen in the past, Sir Antony said: “I think some of these go walkabout but that’s understandable.”

Sir Antony said it was impossible to pick a favourite, adding: “How can you? It’s a bit like asking a parent who their favourite child is.”

He said the figures “are looking at us and asking us ‘What kind of world are you making?

“What are we doing? in this crazy world?’.”

Sir Antony told the media it was “rubbish” to have his name in big letters next to the installation because it was a “collective” work.

He said: “Hundreds of people did it, just for the sake of doing it.”

Field For The British Isles will be on display at Firstsite for four months until March 8.