It’s a remarkable sight. A hundred life-sized sculptures stretching along a sandy beach and into the sea as far as the eye can see.
Welcome to Antony Gormley’s Another Place. This spectacular art work on Crosby beach in Liverpool is a sight to behold with its army of cast-iron figures looking out to sea.
Staring out to the horizon, the figures are strung out across the golden sands for more than a mile. It’s a daring and dramatic piece of art.
The ‘human’ figures are made from casts of Antony Gormley’s own body. Each is over six feet tall and weighs a whopping 650 kilos – about the size of 10 Tammys (a scary thought!) .
Another time, another place
There’s a definite ‘wow’ factor when you step onto Crosby Beach for the first time. The sheer scale of Antony Gormley’s art work is mind-blowing and much bigger than I’d anticipated from photographs.
Like many Antony Gormley pieces, this is monumental in scale but it covers a much bigger area than his other works.
Each of the sculptures stands in a similar way with their postures carrying different degrees of tension or relaxation. All of them stare towards the horizon as if the waves of the Irish Sea are beckoning them.
Tourists, dog walkers and the plain curious approach and stare at their unyielding, blank faces as if they’re alien figures from another planet.
There’s an otherworldly quality to Gormley’s alien-like ‘cybermen’ with their static appearance and featureless bodies. They look like they’ve arrived in a time machine or extra-terrestrial spacecraft, landing in a strange environment which they are trying to make sense of.
For me, the figures resemble actors in a theatrical performance which has paused for an intermission.
The stillness of the figures is disconcerting especially when the light disappears at the end of the day and the inky indigo blues of the sunset start to envelop them in a dark shroud of shadows.
By daylight, they glisten in the sunshine and many bear the scars of the weather which has aged them over time.
Ebb and flow
Antony Gormley’s figures rise up from the beach like a Terracotta Army, standing to attention. But what does it all mean?
When he designed the work, Gormley said that he wanted to capture the ebb and flow of the tide to explore man’s relationship with nature. This is his vision for them:
“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.”
For Gormley these figures aren’t heroic or alien, they are Mr Average, reproduced like clones. These are not classical, god-like heroes like the statues in The Louvre or Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.
“It is 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.”
The sculptures are placed between 50 and 250 metres apart along the tideline and vary in appearance depending on the tide conditions, weather and hour of the day.
As the water ebbs and flows at low and high tide, the sculptures become more or less visible depending on how close the water creeps to them. It’s an astonishing transition.
Some of the figures disappear almost completely at high tide and become submerged.
Others end up partially buried in the sand or stand with their necks peering out of the water like they’re drowning.
It’s a brilliant idea to use the shifting sands and the ebb of the water to change the look of the sculptures. It means that every time you visit this beach, there’s a slightly different experience in store.
The interplay between stillness and movement is fascinating. These iron men stand quietly for several hours at low tide, whilst at high tide they’re battered by the sea.
The statues have become an integral part of the landscape – in a strange way they also engage with the daily life of the beach.
Crowds gather round to ponder the meaning of the figures. Playful dogs sniff and run rings around them. Students of marine biology study the strange barnacles attached to the submerged statues.
Another Place is now a permanent feature at Crosby Beach but it wasn’t always so. It was originally designed as a touring work on European beaches and spent time at Cuxhaven in Germany, Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium.
The ‘Iron Men,’ as they have become known, were intended to be temporary when they arrived in Crosby. But the public fell in love with them and a campaign built up to keep the figures in Liverpool.
For many years, I’ve had a large framed poster of the original sculptures in Germany on my wall so it’s thrilling to see the Gormley works located permanently on an English beach.
Antony Gormley lobbied to keep the sculptures in Liverpool. He had no doubt that Crosby Beach was the perfect location for them. But keeping the ‘Iron Men’ in Liverpool was not without controversy.
There were health and safety concerns which left the artist grumbling about the ‘risk averse’ culture of the UK.
Critics feared that one of the sculptures might topple over and injure someone. The coastguards were worried that visitors would wade into the sea and get trapped by the tides. Others worried about the explicit penises sported by some figures!
But eventually, common sense prevailed and the works were allowed to stay. Now, they’re a huge draw for tourists.
Meet the ‘Iron Men’
Wandering around the figures is a thrilling experience. It’s tempting to walk around every one of them.
After the first 50, I kept on walking towards the furthest figures but eventually realised I’d wandered a very long way down the beach.
In fact, I was about two kilometres from the car park. No surprise when I got a phone call from Tony saying “Where the hell are you? I hope you’re not photographing all 100 of them!”.
I admit that I’d already captured about 65 sculptures on camera!
The figures nearest the promenade were the least weather-beaten and had a bronzed glow like they’ve been sunbathing on the sands.
Those nearer the sea have become craggy and almost unrecognisable with their barnacles, algae and worn-down faces.
I nicknamed one gnarled figure ‘Barnacle Bill’ because he was covered in hundreds of barnacles and marine life.
Like the wreck of a sunken galleon, the men closest to the sea have become at one with the watery environment and have lost much of their original patina.
Looking further out to sea, there’s a backdrop of whirling wind farms. Look out for the Belfast to Birkenhead ferry which glides by each day, providing a great photo opportunity with the sculptures in the foreground.
Another Place is not without humour. Some Liverpool locals have added their own Scouse twist to some of the figures. One can be seen wearing a colourful Carmen Miranda style dress as if ready to pack its bags and head off across the sea on a holiday adventure.
There’s something that brought out my inner child when I was on the beach with the ‘iron men’. Perhaps it was because of my personal connections to this place?
When I was a toddler, my parents brought me to Crosby Beach with my bucket and spade. My Dad grew up around the corner in Waterloo in a small house with a view of the sea. Even as a child, I felt attracted by Crosby’s golden sands and Irish Sea views.
Further along the beach, I recall someone getting stuck in quicksand, a deeply scary experience. Perhaps that’s why I like the solidity and permanence of the ‘iron men’.
Another Place also brought out the amateur archaeologist in me. I wanted to investigate and delve deeper into the lives of these haunting figures which seem to have sprung up from nowhere.
There’s a slightly spooky, primeval feel to the beach especially at dusk when the figures are silhouetted against the landscape.
Art lovers will love the experience of interacting with the sculptures, but you don’t have to be a culture vulture to enjoy a trip to Crosby.
This is quite simply a great beach walk with the added attraction of the formidable army of ‘iron men’. Timeless and haunting, the sculptures transport you to another time and place. An inspirational trip.
Tammy Tour Guide – Antony Gormley’s Another Place
Another Place is located at Crosby Beach in Liverpool, north west England. Follow the signs from Crosby or Blundellsands to Mariners Road. If you’re using a GPS, the postcode is L23 6SX.
Another Place is open all hours. The best times to see the sculptures are at sunset/sunrise and low tide. Admission is free. Parking is located nearby on the main beach promenade. There are two rail stations within striking distance at Blundellsands and Waterloo.
Visitors are advised to stay within 50 metres of the promenade at all tides and not attempt to walk out to the furthest figures. Wear sensitive shoes as it can be wet, muddy and sandy underfoot.
Other places worth visiting in nearby Liverpool if you’re in the area for a short break include the Tate Gallery, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Museum, Albert Dock, Maritime Museum and the homes of The Beatles.
Visit the Another Place photo gallery
Click on the images to expand and create a tour of Crosby Beach and Another Place.
Where to find more Antony Gormley
If you love Antony Gormley and want to see more his works, here’s a selection of his sculptures across Great Britain.
Edinburgh Modern Art Gallery
This work is outside the main entrance so you can’t miss it. There are also several other Gormleys down by the stream at the back of the gallery although some have been removed due to boggy conditions.
Birmingham city centre
Head to Victoria Square in Birmingham city centre to come face to face with Gormley’s giant Iron Man.
London – Euston Road
Look out for the iron man and his doppleganger in the windows of an office reception just off Euston Road opposite Great Portland Street Tube.
The Angel of the North, Gateshead
The most famous Antony Gormley is the iconic Angel of the North on the main road into Gateshead on Tyneside.