I love art that makes you feel something. To be honest, I’m not concerned about what it makes you feel – calm, enlightened, happy or disturbed, horrified and disgusted – it’s the fact that you get to *see* into the imagination, the internal workings of another human’s brain. That’s what fascinates me when I come across *Art*.
I enjoy galleries full of Old Masters or Impressionists’ impressions as much as the next person, but installations can, occasionally, leave me wondering why the artist has gone to the trouble of manufacturing something that simply says ‘meh!’ with a little shoulder shrug. After all, such an undertaking presumably required them to invest heavily in terms of their time and financial costs – materials are rarely cheap and readily available – as well as emotional investments. I imagine its very hard to put some artwork out there, only to find that you’re the only one who *gets it*. I constantly have to remind myself, as an artist, that the approval of other people doesn’t necessarily validate my own work, but it always feels more successful when others appreciate the work and enjoy its aesthetic appeal, especially when they take the time to tell me so.
I’ve been looking for these photos, taken in 2007, of the haunting installation of a hundred Iron Men, created by Antony Gormley (who also produced the Angel of the North), along the coast at Crosby, near Liverpool, ten years previously. We visited them, having heard a little about them and we were definitely not disappointed.
The concept of installing a hundred cast iron body forms, modeled on the artists own frame, along the coast (originally they were sited in Cuxhaven, Germany), to ‘harness the ebb and flow of the tide to explore man’s relationship with nature’, could be described as somewhat narcissistic; perhaps the idea seems to be more about perpetuating one’s own image rather that any altruistic purpose.
All preconceived notions were blown away the instant that we arrived. It’s a short walk from the car parking area, along a boardwalk that is designed to prepare you for the assault on your sense of ‘self’ that’s coming. We arrived not long before dusk, which was most fortunate, as the fading evening light further contributed to the eerie atmosphere. In addition, we were just about the only people there, save for a couple of dog-walkers and their pets.
As soon as you step onto the beach, there are several figures that are immediately visible. Each is life-sized, standing atop a small platform which is then sunk firmly into the sand. They are space about five-hundred meters apart or so, at varying distances from the shoreline – some are fully exposed, appearing to balance expertly on their podia, staring towards the horizon, across the vastness of the sea.
You are immediately drawn to the nearest figure and several minutes are passed simply looking at it, following the figure’s far-away gaze, trying to see what he might be looking for. You begin to explore the way his physicality has interacted with the natural environment around him – water, particularly salty sea water – erodes the iron, leaving layer upon layer to be exposed. It’s like looking into his soul.
They don’t interact with you verbally. That would indeed be just wHierd!
But in the evening’s serene silence, where no sounds except the lapping of the tiny waves on the shore and occasional calls of the dogged sea-birds can be heard, you find yourself communing with these figures, attuning yourself to their presence.
It is downright eerie!
The sense of calm, of one-ness with the ataraxia of the setting is immense. It’s the epitome of Zen – or at least a place where one might achieve such a heightened state of mind. Well worth a visit I’d say. In the mean-time, you may get some sense of the feeling from these photos. Let me know if they work for you!