iron men

The iron men are the work of Antony Gormley, and they also are Antony Gormley, his body, cast and dispersed across the world. But somehow I don't associate them with him. Each is an individual, acted upon by the landscape in which they have been left.

They rust. They are eaten by time and weather and water. They're colonised by barnacles, birds shit on them, tourists dress them up in hats and scarves.

Landscapes eat into us all. I live in a ghost landscape, with layers of derelict mills and empty shops and boarded-up pubs, where the last chimney standing bears the luminous yellow letters of a supermarket's name. I live in a millworker's terraced house where more than a hundred years of Lancashire rain have dug into the cracks between the bricks. That rain has dug into me too. I felt out-of-place when I lived in the south. I need wind and rain and hills. Flat places induce mild panic in me.

I wonder about the iron men's thoughts, whether they are slowed like those of AS Byatt's stone woman, whether they ever feel overwhelmed by the horizon, whether it is unbearable to be sunk into a pavement or sand and freeing to stand with every part of their body exposed to the air, or vice versa.

The iron men I've seen are all sited close to the remnants of industry. The figure above, in Leith, stands at the end of a ruined pier, with the corroded machinery of the docks to its right and a vast shopping centre, crowned with the vile, disneyfied tourist attraction of the Royal Yacht Britannia, behind. To the left of the figure, perched on the edge of the water like a mirage, are eerie blocks of  'contemporary' 'luxury' apartments.

On Crosby Beach, close to the cranes of Bootle docks and containers stacked to the sky like industrial lego, a hundred iron men look out to sea. A wind farm churns the mizzle as the murky dishwater-tide breaks on a shore scattered with bladderwrack and miscellaneous scraps of plastic.

Whatever landscape they inhabit, the iron men have the gift of standing still.

I would like to stand still.

Pictures from top to bottom: Edinburgh, National Gallery of Modern Art, June 2011; Edinburgh, Water of Leith, June 2011; Edinburgh, Water of Leith, February 2012; Edinburgh, Leith, February 2012; Edinburgh, Leith, February 2012 (all part of 6 Times)Edinburgh, Leith, February 2012; Crosby, April 2012 (Another Place).