When you go to the beach you expect to see certain things... An ice-cream van, seagulls fighting over chips or perhaps a couple of donkeys, but on Crosby Beach, Sefton, Merseyside, local residents and visitors have been greeted to a different sight altogether – 100 Iron Men. These life-size figures rise out of the sand at different stages, depending on the tide, all looking out to sea in quiet solitude waiting for the water to swallow them up. These figures stretch along 3 kilometres of the foreshore and reach almost 1 kilometre out to sea at Crosby Beach. The sculptures weigh in at over 1400 lbs and stand at a height of 6 feet 2 ½ inches, and are cast-iron moulds of Antony Gormley’s own body; the artist responsible for these ‘Iron Men’ or Another Place as the installation is known.
Another Place was previously installed at Cuxhaven, Germany, Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium, before taking residence on Crosby Beach, Merseyside in 2005. The cast-iron figures took 3 weeks to lift into place along the beach, ensuring that the-metre-high foundation piles that the statues are placed on were firmly in place. The installation was expected to move to New York, however, the sculptures were to remain for longer than the original timescale due to an appeal by the local residents to keep the installation permanently. The meaning of these 100 sentinels according to Gormley is to “harnesses the ebb and flow of the tide to explore man’s relationship with nature” or as described by the BBC “the work is seen as a poetic response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration, sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in another place”. But perhaps the meaning of them is personal to every person who visits Crosby Beach and as they stand and look out towards the sea one can’t help but be transfixed by them and the sea herself.
If you haven’t heard of Antony Gormley before or the Another Place installation then you might be more familiar with the Angel of the North, the controversial piece in Gateshead, which is one of Gormley’s and Britain’s most famous pieces of public art..
Gormley was born in London in 1950 to a German mother and an Irish father. The youngest of 7 children he grew up in a wealthy family in Yorkshire. Gormley attended Ampleforth College in Yorkshire and then went on to complete a degree in Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Art at Trinity College, Cambridge. He travelled to Sri Lanka and India after graduating to study Buddhism for 3 years. When he returned to London in 1974 he attended Central School of Art and Goldsmith’s College before completing a sculpture course at Slade School of Art between 1977 and 1979. His career has spanned nearly 40 years earning him many accolades including the Turner Prize in 1994; using his body as the subject of his work to create moulds for his sculptures, Gormley’s pieces search for the connection between the human body and the space around us.
When the 100 Iron Men were first introduced to their new home in Sefton, the public opinion was divided. Some were slightly perplexed by the cast-iron sculptures thinking them ugly and an odd addition to a beach, some thought that they were inappropriate and slightly pornographic because of their simplified genitalia, whilst others were of the opinion that they were strangely beautiful emitting a poignant statement of presence. However these controversial figures have gained national and international media attention, shining a spotlight on the artist and Sefton, with tourists, families and school parties visiting the Another Place installation.
After a short stay the sculptures were to be taken down due to safety fears that people would get cut off by the tide, stuck in the soft sand, accidents could happen to people doing water-sports and the wildlife would be affected. However local residents and Antony Gormley himself protested against the figures being removed and they became such a popular feature that Sefton Council decided to keep the statues as a permanent feature as long as some of the figures were moved back so that they didn’t affect the local wildlife and marina. In fact the public seems to have taken to the statues so much that they have been seen dressing them in sun hats, various clothing attire and even Santa suits! If you’re wanting to take a trip to Another Place to see these iron giants then you may just see some dressed up, some partially or entirely engulfed by the tide or framed by a perfect sun-rise or sun-set. Whatever your take on these cast-iron men peering expectantly out to sea they have definitely made an impact on the Sefton beach and I imagine they shall be there for a long time to come.
words by Amy Haslam