Of course I could not resist spending an hour or two of my day in Liverpool on a visit to Blundellsands, to see Antony Gormley's beach and sea installation, Another Place. Wikipedia has an article on the artist at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Gormley. And one on Another Place at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Another_Place. This notice I saw on the beach itself may also be useful:
In the end, though, it's up to each and every person who comes to view the installation to make up their own mind what they think about it - whether it is the kind of sculpture they can relate to, whether it means anything at all to them, and whether it adds anything worthwhile to an otherwise empty seascape.
Mr Gormley has created one hundred identical lifesized iron figures, and has planted them on the seafront. They are not concentrated in one place, but are spread out at three hundred yard intervals over a long stretch of beach. So there is no impression at all of a dense forest of figures. Only a dozen or so will be clearly in sight at any one time. More distant figures will probably be mistaken for ordinary people on the sand, or wading out at sea. Some are high and dry; others are in the shallow water; still others are so far out that the advancing tide must surely cover them up to the chest, or wash over them completely. All have numbered wrist tags. All are upright and immobile. All face out to sea. They all face the sunset too. At the right time, in the right light, they clearly do make an intriguing sight that the onlooker will find thought-provoking and possibly moving, and can interpret in several ways.
Close up, it is very obvious that these nude figures are male: each has a limp but very noticeable penis. You can't shy away from it. Whether it's the genuine Gormley, or a toned-down version, I am quite unable to say.
These figures are apparently cast from the artist's own body, and are not an invention. The artist's choice to use his own body, replicated one hundred times, raises questions about his intentions - and self-image. And yet, having seen some of these figures together at Blundellsands, I haven't personally come away with the conviction that he has a massive ego, or that self-promotion was his chief aim. I think in fact that he has been rather courageous: for although there is nothing odd about his build, he is clearly no Tarzan. Nobody is going to compliment him on his physique, assuming that these figures are a good approximation to his real appearance when unclothed - or were in 1997, when the figures were first created.
An installation like this also risks mockery from 'ordinary people' who reject with a whine or a snigger whatever they can't instantly understand, whatever seems to be a waste of money and effort. So far as I could see, though, no figure had been vandalised. The first figure I examined had in fact been adorned with a rather pretty necklace, signifying I do not know what; but one couldn't count that as the wanton desecration of an artwork. It was easily removable, but I left it in place, as had everyone else; and I wondered whether Mr Gormley knew and approved.
Here's a selection from the shots I took, to give you a flavour of what struck me about these figures, and how I quickly got fond enough of them to mess around in a mildly jocular (but I assure you, not disrespectful) way:
A couple of young women came along and were willing to take a couple of shots of me with my ever-ready little Leica. ('Just press the silver button, it's all set up.') They were sisters, and looked remarkably alike. One lived in Australia (Perth, I think she said), and was all smiles, up for anything; the other was local and much more reserved, unwilling to be photographed. So I couldn't take a picture of them both, posing against Mr Gormley's iron simulacrum. Never mind.
Time was ticking on - it was amazing how a short trip away from the city centre had used up the day - and so I walked back to Blundellsands and Crosby station, glad that I'd seen Another Place in the sunshine.
In 1984 I stayed at the Blundellsands Hotel, opposite the station, when attending a course on trusts at The Triad building at nearby Bootle. It looked like this then:
Now, thirty years on, it was converted into apartments:
The fate of many a hotel nowadays, I'm afraid. At least they kept the magnificent red brickwork, including the crenelated tower.