It is now ten years since Another Place, was installed on the beach between Crosby and Blundellsands, part of the coastline that runs to the North of Liverpool. Though first becoming aware of the piece shortly after the initial installation I only visited for the first time last week.
Another Place is composed of one hundred cast iron figures and was created by the sculptor Antony Gormley. The casts are fabricated from mouldings of the artist himself. In all seventeen different mouldings were made of Gormley’s body and each of those was cast several times to make up the group of one hundred. The casting process proved to be difficult, in particular because of the shape, and the first figure took two days for the fabricators to cast. Each of the finished figures weighs over 600kg. The figures are arranged over a two-mile stretch of the beach. All are positioned so that they all look out to sea with some further away from the shore than others.
Prior to visiting my experience of the installation was through the many dramatic images that have been taken of the sculptures. Many of these emphasise the melancholy aspects of the piece. Photographs of the iron figures taken when the beach was deserted, in the half-light of dusk, with dramatic skies reflected in expanses of wet sand. Such images seemed to convey a sense of emptiness, with the iron figures reflected in the pools of water left stranded by the departed tide.
By contrast my visit was on an isolated day of late summer sunshine. In the brilliant sunlight it was difficult to distinguish Gormley’s figures from the silhouettes of fellow visitors to the beach. It was difficult to get the sense of isolated figures arranged in a group but still slightly apart from one another.
There was still something of a sense of melancholy in way that figures stared out to sea. For me Liverpool’s history as a port and a place of departure and arrival for so many people through the years increased this sense of melancholy. For many visitors the rusty iron surfaces of the sculptures will also form a link in their minds to the city’s docks, which sit just to the South, always visible out of the corner of your eye.
Work like this will always change with each visit, affected by season, time of day and weather. I definitely plan to visit at a different time of year and at a different time of day. One definition of an umbrella term like ‘environmental art’ could be art that causes in the viewer an increased awareness of the natural environment in which it is situated. In many ways this is the opposite to the controlled space of gallery. The viewer becomes aware of the variety of natural forces that act over different time periods.
Expansive skies over the open sea have a tendency to provoke contemplation in many people but the presence of these figures and their relationship to sea will, I think, cause many visitors to linger longer on the beach than they perhaps would have done.
Regardless of the weather conditions the presence of the sculptures seemed to make me more aware of the tide variations through day and of how the incoming tide moved across the beach. In looking at the figures as the tide returned I noticed how isolated pools of water, left marooned in hollows of sand as the previous tide went out, were suddenly reconnected as the advancing waters rushed across the surface of the sand to link them.
I was also aware of the longer-term natural forces at work. The surfaces of the sculptures exhibited a variety of physical changes provoked by weathering. These vary across different figures according to their relationship to the tide and particular position on beach. Many of the statutes have a skin of rust in a variety of shades and textures. Other figures have had their features obscured by a covering of barnacles. The presence of the barnacles depends on the extent to which individual figures are submerged when the tide is in and the particular area of the beach they are located in.
Though he expected the accumulation of rust across the surface of the figures, Gormley has spoken of his surprise at the appearance of the barnacles, a phenomenon that he did not anticipate. Many of these have apparently arrived on incoming tankers from Australia and detached themselves to take up residence on the iron figures.
Like most art multiple meanings can be read into Another Place depending on the viewer. Some of the figures had been dressed up, apparently a common occurrence. In her recent Radio 4 programme Another Time, Another Place Sara Parker visited the beach and met some of those whose lives had been touched by the artwork. In the programme a woman spoke moving about her experience visiting the beach in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s sudden and unexpected death. Local children relayed tales of how the figures have acted as a spur to their creative imagination when playing on the beach.
As an architect many of the issues of temporality that this work deals with seem equally relevant to architecture. The visit caused me to dig out my copy of Mohsen Mostavi and David Leatherbarrow’s book On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time. In the book the authors challenge the idea that a building is complete at the end of the construction process. Instead they propose the possibility that weathering can be seen as a continuation of the building process, a continual refinishing of the building by natural forces that can add to architectural meaning.
After several hours of walking on the beach and contemplating art I was in dire need of afternoon refreshment. We get through a fair amount of tea at Syte Architects and this was one of those regular occasions where only tea would do. Fortunately, it took only a minor detour to arrange a route back to the station that took us past the Crosby Tea Rooms. This is the kind of place that makes you think the British High Street has not become a wholly corporate space. Upon arrival a customer was entertaining his fellow diners on the piano while his food was being prepared. Judging by the menu and the plates being served at the adjacent tables there was all sorts of lovely food and cakes on offer. The staff were all absolutely lovely. We kept it classic with warm fresh scones, jam and clotted cream. Tea of the day was earl grey, brewed in a teapot that appeared to have been designed by a birdwatcher. The plan is to return later in the year and drop in for afternoon tea on our way to watching the sun set on the iron men.