“How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you – you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences – like rags and shreds of your very life.” Katherine Mansfield
Imagine leaving your country and homeland and having to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to find another place to live. How would you feel? What would you hope for and dream about? What would you remember about the place you have come from?
For most people reading this blog post, the questions are hypothetical. But for some, the experience of being uprooted, be this for economic, political, family or other reasons is a huge life-changing event. One craves the company of others who understand your language, cultural customs and humour, the taste of traditional foodstuffs and the places and people you loved.
Crosby Beach is home to Antony Gormley’s sculpture Another Place. About 100 cast-iron replicas of the artist’s body have been sited here along a 2-mile stretch and at various points between high and low tide. They all face out to see but some are sunk deeper into the sand and some are closer to the sea than others. Most get submerged at high tide. 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.
The journey of this artwork echoes that of many emigrants. When the iron statues were constructed, they were originally installed at Cuxhaven in Germany. They were then moved to Stavanger in Norway, followed by De Panne in Belgium. Finally in 2007, Sefton Council agreed to make the artwork a permanent installed at Crosby Beach. In a sense, they found a home in another place from their initial location, ten years after their creation.
However this move was not welcomed by various groups. Safety concerns were raised about the artwork. Not only could watersports users be affected, the presence of the statues, it was argued, may result in visitors being cut off by tides and getting stuck in the soft sand. Conservationists worried about their impact on bird feeding areas. In light of these concerns, a number of the iron men were relocated to different part of the beach to ensure these issues were addressed. The parallels to how emigrants arrive and are perceived by some people within the UK are similar: the need to question the appropriateness of the statues, the “Not in my backyard” mentality of certain users who may be affected.
Yet over time, the artwork has become an established and a much-loved part of Crosby Beach. They fit in rather nicely. When you arrive on the beach, the bodies are scattered and it takes a few moments to distinguish live human visitors from the statues. The effects of weathering are noticeable. The statues have to withstand the wind, the rain and snow, day and night, year after year.
According to Antony Gormley, “Another Place harnesses the ebb and flow of the tide to explore man’s relationship with nature. At the seaside, 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. 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.”
Gormley said the artworks were “catalysts for reflection. The sculptures are like standing stones acting as markers in space and time, linking with specific places and their histories.” Perhaps we need to reflect about the movement of humans, their journeys and memories and, most importantly, hope that 2016 is a welcoming year for all who are uprooted from another place.