Friday, 20 November 2009


The light was fantastic; tactile, translucent, diaphanous, sublime. The sky huge, giving us an Artist’s horizon of the Albert Dock. Industry and nature. Man’s machines and the natural world. The weather was perfect. The weather woman had told us wind and rain. She was wrong.

The clouds were strata, high and thin. And it was high tide.

We giggled. Where were the iron men? We’d driven all the way to Liverpool, to see Antony Gormley’s ANOTHER PLACE installation on Crosby Beach, and nature had defeated us. We'd come on a pilgrimage; such a long way. But as King Canute famously discovered; you can’t control the mood of the ocean waves. So we just stood and breathed the cleansing scent of the salty sea air, and watched the crashing waves.

Then, as we watched, the tide turned. Slowly, slowly, before our eyes, the waves receded, revealing a sandy beach. Dylan pointed to what looked like a rock, appearing just above the waves. Is that one? Then I spotted another. We watched for a while, then turned back to the first. A man was emerging, as the tide withdrew. And as the ocean sucked the waves back, more and more iron men appeared.

Antony Gormley constructed the iron men after making a cast of his own body. There’s 100 of the iron men, scattered over the vastness of Crosby Beach. The final men are just uncovered at low tide. They tell you not to walk out to the men farthest away. The ocean is unpredictable, and the tides turn quickly. It would be easy to get cut off. There’s quicksands here too.
Nature is dangerous.It’s impossible to see more than two or three iron men, at any one time. They stand, alone, lonely, just staring out to sea. Blank eyes fixed on the horizon.

First just the heads, then the bodies, then the whole thing. It was like watching primal pagan gods, emerging from the ocean. It gave me the feeling of what it must have been like to be one of the first men. Just looking at the vastness, amazed -- and filled with wonder. As always, in the presence of great Art, of things that are so much bigger than me, I felt tearful. Such a gift Antony Gormley has given us -- just because he can.

I don’t know what the installation is supposed to mean -- if anything. Some people say it’s a comment on the first men to emigrate. A sense of loss. Of leaving the homeland and staring out across the huge Atlantic Ocean. Daring to leave; not knowing what’s on the other side. To boldly go, (sorry, couldn’t resist).

But it doesn’t matter. It means different things to different people. It doesn’t have to mean anything. The light, the sounds of the ocean, the vast expanse of beach, the skies. For the two of us -- we just felt privileged to look and wonder.


  1. Beautiful! Quite lovely. I read the figures as waiting for something, I don't know what, perhaps rebirth, they are waiting for things to get better. They are 'born' every day and then the ocean reclaims them. The figures go back to the womb. Am I allowed to be so fanciful? Easter Isalnd eat ya heart out!

    HUGS xxx

  2. What an extraordinary experience! I love the fact that you had to wait for the tide to turn before you could actually see the bodies. That seems very mystic, which makes the trip seem ever more special.

    I'm so glad you had a wonderful time. Big smile and hug to you.

  3. So strange you'd post these, billie. Awhile ago a dear friend sent me a couple of links to the statues and I had this idea for a book come to me. Here's the opening:

    Wind sent ripples across the wide expanse of ocean in front of him, whipping the tops of each wave into the air. A couple: the man, dark haired and well built, the woman, short, a little on the plump side with her blonde curls, passed by him. Their voices were barely discernable, the words stolen by the wind, yet he was sure they were happy being on the beach, in the wind. It must have been cold; the man offered his jacket to his companion, who wore only a pale blue summer dress and white sandals. That left him in shirt sleeves, grey shorts and worn runners.

    The couple walked on, getting closer to the waves until finally they turned and headed inland, away from the only thing he could see. Time passed and more couples meandered along the beach. Children ran into the water, splashing, crying out their joy at being young and carefree. Dogs chased balls or sticks thrown by unseen owners. In the dark, he watched the stars, the moon, or clouds. The tide came in, covering him to the waist at times, to the knees at others. When it went out the farthest, he could just see a line of white where sea met sand.

    Days ran into weeks, then months, and he stood stoically by and watched while the season changed and the world passed him by. More people, more dogs and children, even the occasional horse traipsed passed him. He never hungered. The nearness of water never caused him to crave a drink.

    He did remember fear long ago when the water rose, encompassing his knees, his groin then his belly. It had been a calm day, so the waves were small, gushing forward rather than leaping as they sometimes did. When it reached his nipples, he realized he was going to be submerged and terror gripped him. He couldn't move, couldn't flee, couldn't swim. And still the water crept higher, touching his chin then his lower lip and then covering them. He wanted to close his eyes, to shut out the sun and the brilliant blue with the white tipped death that crept up him. Yet he stood frozen in place, feeling no chill or push of water against him, no wildly beating heart of gasping for breath.
    He simply watched and waited, while terror tore at him.

    The ocean reached out and touched his nose, a wave lapped over it, touching his eyes.

    He screamed, inside his head. No voice, no breath. If he could have, he was sure he'd have soiled the water swirling around him.

    When the water flowed over his head, he stopped being afraid. Nothing had changed. He still stood, stoically, back straight, arms at his sides, feet well placed for balance, and watched.

    Time passed, tiny fish circled him, a crab scuttled across the sand, and the water receded.

  4. Thank you so much everyone. Another Place is certainly a special place to visit. The installation, its location, the sounds of the sea and wind. The wonderful light. I'm pleased to share it with you. It's inspiring and profound.

  5. So wonderful -- so magical! I so would have loved to have seen these with you :-)



  6. Wow - how absolutely wonderful! - the art installation, the pictures and your description of the experience. I absolutely love Gormley's "Angel of the North" and keep going back to visit, and now I want to make a pilgrimage to "Another Place" too.

    Thank you Billie!