by Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff
Sculptor Antony Gormley, the artist behind the Angel of the North, is creating sculptures based on the bodies of 240 volunteers from the north-east of England.
Gormley alongside some moulds taken from volunteers' bodies
Being wrapped in cling film and caked in hot plaster would not ordinarily sound like the most enticing prospect.
But for 1,500 members of the Tyneside public, the chance to have it done by one of the UK's leading sculptors and his team who were offering to immortalise them in art made it too enticing to resist.
When Antony Gormley appealed for volunteers to have their bodies transformed into steel sculptures, he was overwhelmed by the response.
He had room for just one in six of the volunteers, whose naked bodies are being used to make plaster moulds from which steel bars will be taken.
The steel bars will then be put together in the shapes of the bodies, with the resulting figures to populate a huge room in the Baltic "art factory" in Gateshead.
Moulds of half of the final 240 volunteers have been made, and Gormley thinks so many applied because the process conveys their fears about the issue of community.
The finished sculptures will be made from steel bars
"But maybe I'm over-egging their interest because I'm sure the majority of them think it sounds a bit of a laugh," he told BBC News Online.
The process of being covered in plaster and then cut out has a profound effect on the volunteers because it is "like going into a death state and being reborn", according to Gormley.
Some have even fainted several times, usually just before they emerge from the cast.
"Everybody has got different theories about why those are the most normal times for people to faint. It could well be a relief reaction. It's very extraordinary."
"But all of them continue. Nobody has given up. It's an amazing thing."
Most volunteers were scared before taking part - but felt a "great elation" when it was over and they saw themselves in a three-dimensional mould, he said.
I've always tried to make the closest possible bridge between life and art
One volunteer, Joanne Harri, said she thought it would be really "exciting" to be part of the production process of an art project.
Describing the experience as she was being wrapped in plaster, she said: "It's very strange, cold and wet. I'm sure there are more pleasurable ways to be immortalised."
The project, called Domain Field, is the latest in the sculptor's Field series that includes the 40,000-strong terracotta crowd that comprise Field for the British Isles.
A cross-section of the local population was picked to take part, from ages five to 95.
The sculptures will reflect all body shapes and sizes
The resulting steel crowd will pose questions about identity and community, Gormley said.
"It will be somewhere between a mist and a thicket and you'll be able to pick your way through it," Gormley said.
But he does not describe the finished sculptures as figures or people, but as domains or "subtle bodies" whose energy will be felt as people wander around the room when the finished arrangement is in place.
They will question whether it is possible to live inside a body without worrying about looks, and how much influence a community has on an individual, he said.
But for Domain Field, Gormley wanted to invite real people to take part because art has become too elite.
He has always been interested in opening up the space of art for others, he said.
"I've always tried to make the closest possible bridge between life and art, and this is certainly about as close as I can get.
"I would like to think that there is a huge shift in attitude as to what art is and how you can be involved in it and I think this is an indication of that shift."