Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Sacred Space - Another Place

Not all sacred spaces are contained; not all are typically holy. Not all are holy to those that visit - one of the reasons I love Lindisfarne is the mix of people who visit the same space for many reasons. 

Crosby beach is not so far - 40 minutes as opposed to 4 hours drive away; on the opposite bank of the Mersey river. This side of the river mirrors the commercial sea trade that has sustained Liverpool for hundreds of years. The docks stretch north to the Bar where the river meets the sea in a turbulent exchange of fresh and salty waters; blue and orange cranes stand on tip-toes, spiderly graceful above the squat corridors of metal containers waiting for their boat to come in. Out to sea the air currents are harvested by 200ft tall wind turbines; their size only realised by the passing of a Mersey ferry. 

In the shadow of all this marine industrialisation a few acres of tidal land has been declared of Special Scientific Interest and is a nature reserve attracting fishermen and birdwatchers. This gap allows the natural seascape to take over. The beach is flat; made up of a dark gritty sand that stains the water a dirty brown (despite appearances and following years of industrial and negligent pollution, the river is now 'European-ly' clean and home to all manner of wildlife). 

This stretch of the river is inhabited by the art installation 'Another Place' by Anthony Gormley.  This art piece consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures spread out along three kilometers of the foreshore, stretching almost one kilometre out to sea. 
The Another Place figures - each one weighing 650 kilos - are made from casts of the artist's own body and are positioned along the shore -  all of them looking out to sea, staring at the horizon in silent expectation.

They have been previously been seen in Cruxhaven in Germany, Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium.The work is meant to be 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.

In November 2006 the statues were expected to move to New York but after a successful appeal by the Merseyside public they have, paradoxically, made their home here.

Almost immediately the locals complained - some that their peace and quiet was being disturbed by the daily visitors; some that they were not able to sail their boats and ski-boats so close to the shore for fear of coming into contact with cast iron mermen - the tide covers about half of them at different times of the day. Their friends include them in their seaside fun - dressing them in baseball caps; fancy dress at Halloween and even as shepherds, angels and wise men at Christmas- time.  

When they first arrived they were all, understandably, remarkably similar in appearance but they are not the same; they are made from the same body but not from the same mould. The six years (and more) have shown on their faces - and everywhere else. 

Each of them wears an identity bracelet with a number etched on it. Each figure has a place marked on some marine map - but they have not stayed where they were put; despite their weight they have wandered and sometimes need to be 'reclaimed'. Depending on where they are, their contact with the sea or the winds, they have aged in different ways; their features sandblown smooth or gnarled with barnacles and seaweed. Some are coloured  a deep golden brown - with wrinkled layers of salty rust.  whilst those near the top of the sands remain a smooth gun metal grey.   

Even in the busiest of seasons it is only a matter of a few hundred yards to find yourself making solitary encounters with the men; looking out to sea to imagine what has caught their fascination. Wondering at their impassive nature as they stand resolute against the rising tide; Canutes with nothing to prove. 

There is something about the fact that they are casts of a human being - a sense that something of the artist is there within them; what must it feel like to leave vestiges of yourself all over the world?  What must it feel like to squint into the sunset from a hundred pairs of eyes; to feel the sand blowing against the body or the fish nibbling between your toes. Or maybe that's just me.

Sometimes I envy them their stillness and their belonging. I imagine them as desert fathers and mothers - each in their little cell of sand, sea and air - all with their hearts set on the Other Place we all hope to be, God willing. 



Philomena Ewing said...

This is so beautiful.
I love Gormley's work and your reflection on this is full of ideas that set my imagination off in all directions.
The idea of desert fathers and mothers is intriguing and the phrase "leaving vestiges of yourself all over the world" is great!
So much here to absorb and ponder on.
Thank you !

Word in the Hand said...

Thanks Phil, I'm a Gormley fan myself - they are a wonderful group of people. blessings

Martha at Authentica said...

Oh but to read their minds...understand their contemplation...Their views of the tides and horizon and ever changing star patterns. There is something about them...standing there...part of the sea, that puts one in a different frame of mind. I just have to imagine myself in their shoes and I feel calm. Beautiful post! I love seeing your photography and as always beautiful!!

Word in the Hand said...

Thank you Martha - they are a fascination bunch - and at this time of year I do envy their opportunity for stillness M+x

Rachael said...

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

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claire said...

Thank you, Word. I hope some day to go there and feel all that you have expressed so beautifully here.
Once again, thank you.

Word in the Hand said...

if you'd like a guided tour Claire = let me know:)
Rachael - thanks for dropping by and for your comment.
blessings for the week ahead. m+x

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