Antony Gormley at Crosby Beach
Another Place, Crosby Beach near Liverpool
Sculptor Antony Gormley is perhaps best known for his Angel of the North public sculpture in Gateshead, England. His work often uses the human body (usually his own) in public spaces. His artworks can be seen in many locations around the world. Another Place (1997) has been at Crosby beach since 2005 and is one of the many Gormley artworks that are worth a visit to experience. It is also known as The Iron Men of Crosby.
At the mouth of the Mersey estuary, North of Liverpool, 100 solid cast-iron life size figures of Antony Gormley stand staring out to the horizon. Between Waterloo and Blundellsands, facing out to the Irish Sea, they are spread out along approximately 3 km/2 miles of sea beach at Crosby and 1 km out to sea. The foundation pile of each figure is 3 metres/10ft high driven beneath the sand. Each figure is a life size cast from the artist’s own body. Each stands 1.89m tall/ 6ft 2. They are shown at different stages: rising from the sand near the promenade to standing at the water’s edge and finally submerging into the sea. It is as if the statues are leaving us willingly but with a tinge of sadness or suffering.
Environmental conditions affect the viewing of these sculptures. Your experience will differ every time. If you go at dusk or dawn when the beach will be almost empty of people (or on a winter’s day) you may well experience the full poignancy that some have claimed.
The tide will also alter your experience. Some figures will be submerged and some will contemplate moving forwards into the sea. However, try not to go when the tide is fully in, you will see nothing, perhaps a few heads poking out of the sea. When the tide is out they are almost waiting for something to happen.
If you go when the beach is busy, it’s a great time to enjoy people reacting to and engaging with the figures: contemplating, taking pictures and snapshots with their new pals. People often feel compelled to dress the men or give them a comforting hug.
How you experience the artwork will entirely depend on the tides, the weather, the time of day, your own feelings and mood – it can seem different every time you visit. Some people fully contemplate the meaning they have attached to them and others are happy to create a fun holiday snap.
The weathering effect makes us more aware of not just time passing but the effect of seasons, weather, tides. Nature itself will always have a relationship with us, whether we like it or not.
The figures are weather-worn and sea-ravaged, causing subtle change as time goes by. A metaphor? Perhaps.
However you experience the beach, it is worth a visit to contemplate the magnitude of the project as identical figures stretch out along the beach all facing the same direction, all at considerable distance from each other yet all connected. It engages you and encourages you to also look out and notice the changing seascape of boats and industrial structures barely in focus, including the wind farm in the distance. I wonder how long the figures will stand there and how they will survive time? How might they be perceived in the future? You will find your own significance. Stay a while. Contemplate.
The ebb and flow of the tide contemplates our human relationship with nature:
“The seaside is a good place to do this. Here time is tested by tide, architecture by the elements, and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance. In this work human life is tested against planetary time. This sculpture exposes to light and time the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body, no hero, no ideal, just the industrially-reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.” – Antony Gormley
This installation is seen here in the UK for the first time and was previously installed in Cuxhaven in Germany; Stavanger in Norway and De Panne, Belgium. Initially it was to move on to New York in 2007 but the men have quietly settled here permanently now. Having them in one permanent place also adds further meaning to the art as we watch them change with the environment over the passing years. At first controversial, they are now a part of the Crosby landscape, attracting the curious from around the world (thanks to South Sefton Development Trust with sponsorship from Sefton Council, Mersey Waterfront Arts Council of England).
Beware, the tide can move quickly here. Crosby beach is a non-bathing beach, and for a good reason, with areas of soft sand and mud and a risk of rapidly changing tides. Sunbathers can be found staying close to the dunes or near the promenade. Resist temptation to wander out to sea to get a closer look at the farthest figures. You don’t want to get engulfed in a fast moving tide.
Public art is a special thing, accessible to everyone and without the controlled environment of a gallery and all its connotations. Anyone can engage freely with the sculptures and make up their own mind about their significance: passing time, weather, years seasons and tides.
The beach, with its patches of muddy and peachy coloured fluffy sand, is a pleasure to walk along in any weather. Be sure to also wander back along the sea path and spot the pastel-coloured houses that line the beach front: a mosaic of different archtectural styles and idyllic gardens. Allow a good couple of hours to stroll around, weather and tides permitting.
To get there:
Take the local train to Southport (a return day ticket is just a few pounds). Crosby Beach is accessed by three local train stations; Hall Road, Blundellsands and Crosby, and Waterloo. Trains run every 15 minutes on the Merseyrail Northern Line. It is only a few stops away from Central Station or Moorfields in Liverpool city centre. I prefer to get off at Waterloo Station and walk along the footpath.
From Waterloo Station: Walk down South Road with the station on your left hand side. At the end of South Road, cross over and walk down the paved footpath betweenthe two parks and follow this footpath for about 15 minutes.
From Hall Road Station: With the train station on your right hand side walk down Hall Road West until it bends 90° to the left, on the bend there is an access road that goes to the beach, past the Coastguard Station.
From Blundellsands Station: On the opposite side of the railway tracks to the ticket office, walk down Blundellsands Road West to the end, a footpath leads to the beach – about 10 minutes walk.
If this artist’s work interests you, and you like to travel, get over to Antony Gormley’s website and you can find out where his artwork is situated around the world. You can find out more about what’s on in Liverpool galleries here.