Sunday, January 14, 2007

another place

Gormley statue

Another Place is a peculiarly affecting piece of work.

Antony Gormley, best known for the colossal Angel of The North statue at Gateshead, made a hundred iron statues from a cast of his own body. They have been widely dispersed along Crosby beach in north Liverpool. The distance between them varies, some are close to shore, others up to a kilometre out in the shallow Mersey estuary.

Another Place, Crosby

It sounded imaginative and novel, but I hadn't been expecting the deeper levels at which it would hit me. The figures may be randomly distributed, but they all face out to sea. Humans love looking at big expanses. As I've said elsewhere, it's hardwired into us.

we are all — inexplicably in rationality — impressed by seeing big landscapes or the sea. Think about it — why should a mountain impress you?

...Wind moving through the grass and trees, the ripples across water, clouds across the sky; we are so rooted to these that just the words in that last sentence are soothing in themselves!

Seeing the figures chimes into something that humans have done for as long as there's been humans. The sea has not just an epic scale but a permanence that makes the human figures seem so small physically and chronologically. Yet at the same time, you're taking your place among all those who've ever stood like that.

Gormley's official explanation of Another Place implies that temporary individuals combine to make an enduring human character, and in making people see themselves in that context it challenges consumerism.

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. 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.

More than this, it's the most unstuffy piece of art imaginable. Away from any uptight gallery chinstrokery, it's just there, no admission fee, day and night, for all to see and interact with.

People make what they will of it. Some have been given football scarves and hats. It doesn't spoil it, it just underlines the unpretentious humanness of the concept.

Having been at Crosby for a year and a half, they've been a big hit. With Liverpool coming up to its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, you'd have thought Another Place would be prized. You'd be reckoning without Debi Jones.

Crosby was a Tory constituency since neolithic times. When the Labour breakaway Social Democratic Party declared they'd 'broken the mould of British politics' in 1981 they parachuted in one of their stars, Shirley Williams, to win a Crosby by-election. By the time of the general election two years later the mould had seamlessly healed itself like Terminator 2 or the Mayor in season three of Buffy, and Crosby was Tory once more.

Having stayed up all night watching the Tories get trounced in 1997, I danced naked in the streets and then rang my Crosby-resident brother in the morning to gloat about Portillo, Hamilton and whatnot. It didn't even occur to me to check the Crosby result - it would surely always be Tory - but amazingly it had gone Labour. Claire Curtis-Thomas is apparently a fairly good constutency MP, and she has retained the seat since.

Imagine how this sticks in the craw of the local Tories; some Labour woman who doesn't even use her husband's surname taking their birthright. Last general election, Curtis-Thomas' Tory opponent was Debi Jones. Hilariously, Curtis-Thomas' husband was caught defacing Jones' campaign posters and fined £80.

Before all this Jones made a name for herself as a bigot pundit on local radio. She was then elected as a local councillor for a very posh dormitory village called Hightown, whilst simultaneously furthering the progress of humanity by doing some presenting on cable TV shopping channel Yes 655. She recently left that job, realising that she needs to assert her political integrity and credibility. Now she's a presenter on cable TV shopping chanel IBuy.

Her website is titled Debi Jones TV Presenter Celebrity Official Website.

She self-defines as a celebrity. This would mark someone out as a truly awful human being in itself. But consider how much worse it is when done by someone with the absolute minimum of anything that could be called celebrity. And I love that 'official' - just to differentiate between that and all the fansites, right?

So we come to Debi Jones and Another Place. Jones' boss, Sefton Council's Chief Executive Graham Haywood, says

There has been huge public support for the retention of the Gormley Statues which has clearly been reflected in the media coverage and direct contact with the council. “Another Place” has proved to be a very evocative project which has captured the imagination of many people and attracted substantial numbers of visitors.

But not everyone likes the statues. Debi Jones objects. She says they're a danger to people who look at them and to passing shipping. Really. It'd be quite funny if it weren't for the fact that she's on Sefton Council's Planning Committee and has got them to vote to remove the statues.

Classic fucking Tory puritanism. Just like the 1994 Criminal Justice Act outlawing free raves, there's this dread fear and outraged horror that people might be enjoying something. Worse still, enjoying something for free.

Gotta put a stop to that, otherwise where would it end? If people spend their time at Another Place contemplating the unity of humanity in its response to wide natural spaces, getting a deep understanding of our temporary place in the scheme of things and yet our simultaneous part in something endless and true, what use is that? Why aren't they at home squandering their money on shit they don't need off IBuy?

You've got to suspect a part of Jones' sour miserablism is also a grudge, as Claire Curtis-Thomas supports the retention of Another Place.

At the end of last year, Curtis-Thomas sent out an annual report to local Labour Party members. In reference to Debi Jones' anti-Gormley stance, it captioned a picture of Jones 'Gormless' and asked 'Is Debi Jones’s brain in another place?'.

Heavy handed and scarcely funny punning. In-house local political party leaflets are hardly going to be the collected scripts of Round The Horne.

Still, Jones has got up on her hind legs and complained that the offending leaflet didn't have permission to use a picture of her feeding Nestle chocolates to a bloke in a chair. She bemoans its 'unprofessional' approach.

While Curtis-Thomas is a New Labour schmuck, at least her and her poster subvertising husband are getting stuck into attacking the advocate of an ideology far more vicious than theirs.

Debi Jones is a Tory. As they work so hard to mask themselves and connect to a new powerbase, we need to be clear what that means. More than anyone else, she wants to take away things like hospital beds and give the money saved to the rich. She wants to reward those rich people because, well, they're rich. She wants to 'cut political correctness' (great euphemism for exacerbating disrespect towards disadvantaged minorities).

All that awards-ceremony style 'we're all playing the same game, let's be chummy' attitude in politics, I don't know the unit of measurement to tell you how far it can fuck off. Three fucking cheers for an unprofessional approach.


SamuelCoates said...

I'm sorry, but this is rubbish. If you knew Debi you'd retract your assetions.

merrick said...

Anything to back that up at all? Care to tell me which stuff I've said is wrong and why?

If all you can do is use the word 'rubbish' in an unsubstantiated way then really, don't waste both our time.

merrick said...

What's that crackly whooshing noise? Look, there goes tumbleweed as Samuel fails to refute anything said about Debi Jones.

I wonder, when Debi says we 'need to combat drugs' she'd like to see David Cameron convicted for his cannabis use.

The tories think there should be tougher laws on cannabis. As Jim Bliss says, 'I’d love to ask him whether he believes his life would be better had his cannabis possession been subjected to the punishment he advocates for others? Would Mr. Cameron be a better, more-productive member of society if he’d been expelled from school, spent three months in a juvenile detention centre, and received a criminal record barring him from numerous positions (as well as travel to several countries)? Would society be better off to have one more half-educated ex-con with a chip on his shoulder?'

The answer is plain; yet still they propose this vicious cruelty be meted out on others. Don't forget who the tories really are.

Paul said...

The statues may be staying. Decision to be made in the next few days...

Anonymous said...

the statues aren't free. they cost tax payers £2.2 million.

merrick said...

anonyperson, where did I say the statues were free?

As a large industrial operation, clearly there's cost to be borne somewhere.

But what i did say in relation to things being free was that there is no admission fee, that people are enjoying the statues for free, and that Debi Jones' grumbling is the same miserablist money-loving Tory spirit that outlawed free raves in the 1990s.

2.2 million is a small figure for the depth of pleasure they've brought to huge numbers of people. Even if you are narrow minded and mean-hearted enough to only measure the value of things in monetary terms, I'm willing to wager that they've already brought more than their cost in the boost to the Liverpool economy from visitors spending money while there.

Anonymous said...

anonyperson: are you sure that you would wager that they've already brought more than their cost in?-there aren't any cafes, gift shops,etc at the site.

i disagree: 2.2 million is a large figure, and could be spent more wisely than on eighty metal figures

merrick said...

Yep, I'll take that bet. This article from last October says over 600,000 people have visited. That's under 4 pounds each. I spent more than that buying a return ticket on Merseyrail from Liverpool Central.

That's before we start thinking about going the pub and getting a curry on our way back through the city centre.

More, that's dividing the cost among visitors who've *already* been. As I understand it, the 2.2 million is to buy them permanently.

Are you really making the ludicrous assertion that all the visitors for the life of the statues won't bring 2.2 million in?

Anonymous said...

Have over 600 000 visited?

Six hundred thousand was originally an estimation that has since become a statistic. In July 2005, The Guardian stated, "They (Gormley's figures) have been brought to the region by the South Sefton Partnership, a regeneration body which estimates they will attract 600,000 visitors in 18 months."By October 2006, The Guardian actually claims this number of people visited (see link above)

Certainly, six hundred thousand is a profuse amount of people; including Christmas day and all the other wintry days in between, it is over a thousand people every single day, to see the feature, “Another Place.”

Furthermore, treating "Another Place" as a business tool, would surely mean the millions spent from the public purse are replaced, and with interest. If, for example, curry-serving landlords have an increase in trade, then we must assume that only a percentage of that, through taxes, counts. In other words, more than four pounds trade would need to be generated, so that four pounds per person could be returned to the treasury.

The metal figures on the beach are said to have cost one and a half million pounds. Originally the total expense was supposed to be two million pounds. This amount increased to two point two million pounds. Therefore, the extra costs, of say maintenance and handling, rose by 40%. It has been suggested that the figures will last for ten years before further amounts will need to be spent on maintenance. However, with this kind of ambiguity surrounding maintenance costs, ten years could easily drop by 40% to six years.

Overall, unreliable sources of data and the extreme accounting that would be needed for reliable information, means that the financial benefits of the feature are blurred. However, whilst the public coffers might not or might be suffering, there is one successful party; Antony Gormley collected one and a half million pounds payment for iron moulds of himself to be spread across a patch of seashore.

merrick said...

Anonyperson, you are right; that 600,000 figure I cite does indeed seem to be an estimate turned into a stat without any survey!

However, averaging a thousand visitors a day doesn't seem too outlandish to me. The two times I've been the numbers within sight have easily been in the hundreds. Multiply that by the visitable hours in the day and four figures appears reasonable.

Going a few miles up to Formby on the same day there was almost nobody. So I'd guess the statues are a good draw.

And my level of anecdotal evidence does seem to be about as good as it gets; having had a trawl I can't find anything to definitively answer how many people have come, how much they've shelled out, and whether they'd have come to the shore anyway.

In the end I don't care. I think it takes a particularly shallow person to measure public facilites only in terms of what shows up on the balance sheet.

For almost everybody, the real value in life is not measured in pounds and pence. I'm glad to have paid taxes towards Another Place and helped give people the fun and the contemplation it's encouraged.

For pretty much the same reason, I'm glad taxpayers fund art and music classes for enthusiatic kids who are never really going to be any good. I'm glad I fund swimming pools and not just for the health value in terms of productivity and savings to the NHS, but in terms of the unquantifiable wellbeing it generates.

I'm glad I live in a society that wants to delve a bit deeper than mere monetary values and is prepared to shell out in order to emotionally and spiritually stimulate its members. Another Place seems to be very good value on that front.

Anonymous said...

so "Another Place" touches a real value inside- a shed load of metal pillars piled into the ground touches a real value inside-are you in the construction industry?

basing the profit generated by another place on a rough head count from two visits and one visit to another part of the beach as control is *ludricous*. Plus, the iron figures are underwater half the time.
come on merrick: comparing the costs associated of pointless pieces of metal with spending for childrens lessons?

merrick said...

I accept my headcounts hardly count as solid science, indeed I mentioned them as part of saying there doesn't seem to be any reliable facts. Still, seeing hundreds of people there midweek, out of season during termtime is surely something of a pointer.

The figures aren't under water half the time. It's only at very rare tides that they're entirely covered. I was there again two days ago, high tide so you had to walk along the promenade rather than the beach, and still dozens were visible.

Moving on to the main point, yes the spending on statues compares with spending on art lessons for kids who'll never be any good at it. It's a public financial outlay without guarantee of return. we could be giving them more business studies instead.

But we want to see children stimulated, we want to give them a broad range of emotional stimuli and understand that their edification is something we can't quantify in pounds and pence.

I don't understand why we think this shouldn't apply to everyone, as if we have nothing more to learn after we leave school and should just become some sort of industrial component generating money. if you can explain why in rather more detail than 'come on', I'm all ears.

What a dreadful cheap shot the bit about the 'load of metal pillars' is. Any human activity that generates an emotional response can be denigrated by describing it briefly in terms of mere physical details.

The Beatles were three great apes pawing at wires while another one banged things in the background.

Or how about the cliche that football is just 22 men kicking a bag or air between some sticks?

Another Place does indeed have the capacity to move people. It was conceived to do it, and has done it to thousands of people who've visited it.

If you are really so spiritually impoverished that you derive no value from any work of art then I deeply pity you, and I'm very grateful indeed that you're not in charge of the public purse.

However, I'm confident that you, lie everyone else, get pleasure from art. Art you adore could be just as readily described as its mere physical components by some sad wag trying to get a rise out of you; but really, you'd know it was them that was losing out, wouldn't you?

Clearly, no art is to everybody's taste. So how do we judge whether it's worthwhile? We can ask those who do or don't like it why they react as they do, see if we can get their point.

And even if we personally don't like it - please god never let me go to another production by Leeds Youth Opera as long as I live - we can accept that it can still enhance society for those who enjoy it to have it.

In a suicidally commercial and industrial world, that's something I particularly treasure.

Anonymous said...

Merrick, earlier you stated, “For pretty much the same reason, I'm glad taxpayers fund art and music classes for enthusiastic kids who are never really going to be any good.”

Using children’s lessons for enthusiastic kids, as a similarity to Another Place was a cheap shot. Enthusiastic kids are a group who provoke empathy that eighty-three pointless casts cannot.

In your last post, you explain that, “Spending on children’s lessons compares with spending on art lessons for kids…It's a public financial outlay without guarantee of return.” Using the simile to this end assumes that the purpose of “Another Place” is the same as the purpose of art and music lessons in the school curriculum.

Councils are, however, expecting public art to improve trade and industry within a region. The regional development agencies are government-sponsored public bodies, set up by the government. Peter Mearns from North West Development Agency points out, “The role of public art is widely acknowledged as an important economic driver as well as a catalyst for further regeneration.”

Another Place is reported to attract 600 000 visitors in eighteen months. Given that 600 000 is a currently a statistic which cannot be disproved or proved. Likewise, whether “Another Place” is an economic driver has been neither proved nor disproved. Apparently, the first step would be a reliable sample study at the site, conducted at varied times, asking significant numbers of visitors why, for example, they are visiting the beach, associated expenses, etc?

Unfortunately, like you merrick, I have no real evidence that such a non-biased, survey has been performed. Headcounts may act as guides, although they can be misleading and are inconclusive.

Once returns generated by “Another Place” are substantiated as worthwhile, we will then be better prepared to decide whether “Another Place” has served its key purpose, which is, according to those in charge of the public purse, to improve trade and industry within the region.


merrick said...

The enthusiastic kids certainly do provoke empathy; yet what they're doing is utterly pointless if we go by your measurement of directly attributable monetary investment.

I don't see why kids are the only ones who should be encouraged to have spiritual enrichment. It clear that, much as you derive none from Another place, many thousands of people do.

The kids comparison is fair if one believes the statues have creative worth. It is not a cheap shot unless one subscribes to your belief that the statues are 'pointless'.

The point that you've so deftly sidestepped is that the casts may be pointless to you, but they are clearly not pointless to everyone.

As they have a great deal of creative value for many people, they are demonstrably not pointless.

Anonymous said...


As I understand, you compared money spent on children’s art lessons producing children who are “not really any good,” and public funds spent on another place. However, children have this freedom. We know they do not need to provide results. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect some results from featuring “Another Place” at Crosby Beach.

You mentioned in a previous post that, “Another Place does indeed have the capacity to move people. It was conceived to do it, and has done it to thousands of people who've visited it.”

Some people are experiencing results by having Another Place. Visiting it enlightens your and others' spirits. Apparently, The University of Liverpool’s biology department are, also benefiting from the metal moulds, since the metal collects a particular breed of barnacle. Such results may be perceived as benefits, but they are not the point to Another Place.

According to those who funded the feature, the primary purpose of public art, such as Another Place is to see a growth in trade, and as a means to improve the economy of the region.

Certainly, I would not measure what kids do by “directly attributable monetary investment.” However, it is also reasonable to presume that the metal moulds will provide a quantifiable value to the region.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in the region, who have not visited the site. These people should benefit, however, by any raise in the region’s economy that Another Place might cause.

Overall, until returns generated by Another Place are duly defined, then whether its key purpose is not or is achieved remains unresolved.


Paul said...

merrick said...

Thanks for that, Paul. My next blogpost is about Jones, and I'll crowbar that link in.

I love the UKIP guy saying 'UKIP's Peter Harper added: Obviously anyone would condemn such behaviour' - speak for yourself, pal. I applaud it, as would others. There's even a Facebook group dedicated to 'Vandalised Conservative Billboards'.

merrick said...

Who says nobody likes vandalising Jones' posters?

At the last election the husband of the Labour candidate was fined for doing exactly that!

More power to his elbow. Although, given that his wife had been the number 1 most sticky-fingered expenses-claiming greedhog in the Commons, he could perhaps have done something more elaborate.