I was in Liverpool for a few days recently and taken to see Antony Gormley’s public art piece ‘Another Place’, on Crosby Beach. This installation comprises 100 life-size, cast iron figures looking out to sea – to “another place”. The sculptures, which are of the artist’s own, naked body, are spread along three kilometres of the shoreline and stretch almost one kilometre into the sea. The figures were originally identical but now each one has aged differently according to how their bodies have been eroded and weathered by the tides. Some men are clothed in barnacles and small crustaceans while others remain nude; each man has become discoloured and aged in their own, unique way.
On the day I visited, people strolled on the beach, by themselves, as couples, and in larger family groups. Occasionally, I’d catch myself looking at someone who appeared to be standing still, staring out to sea – only to discover, once I’d come a little nearer, that I’d been gazing at a life-size sculpture. I was also startled a few times when a distant, seemingly-barnacled man suddenly started walking. It was quite unsettling!
As with all public art, my first reaction on encountering it is always a feeling of gratitude. I really like the fact that the art is HERE, right before my eyes, that I don’t have to pay an entrance fee, or queue or book to start engaging with it. I wrote recently about the generosity of public poems, about how much I’ve benefitted and enjoyed reading poems on the London Underground and in public spaces. I felt the same about these sculptures. It wasn’t that I thought them beautiful – although there is beauty in the vulnerability and honesty of these naked, ageing men – it was more that I felt stimulated and interested in the strangeness of these cast iron people who shouldn’t really be here. Although the sculptures’ presence disrupts a natural place, I didn’t feel that they disrespected it. I enjoyed the fact that nature is changing them and interacting with them rather than being dominated by them.
Ultimately, though, and this no doubt says something about me or about the way I’m feeling at the moment, or perhaps about my age and my feelings about growing older, I found the barnacled men very sad. Although there are so many of them, they are all alone. I felt a longing for at least a few of them to be placed together, holding hands. I wanted to hold their hands! They reminded me of how we humans enter and leave the physical world in solitude. And what is missing from the land, from where these men are from, that they need to turn their backs on it and yearn for another place?
Have you seen them? What are your thoughts? or perhaps you’ve seen something similar.
June 26th Post Update – Far better images in David Coldwell’s Flickr stream, linked below in the comments section – please take a look. I’ve also added a link to Michael Joseph’s image of the Gormley figure at Lismore Castle, Ireland since Annette Skade has sent a poem inspired by this sculpture). Thanks, everyone. Josephine.