Hermeneutical reflections on Crosby Beach

I first visited Anthony Gormley’s spectacular artwork ‘Another Place’ several years ago. Back then, it consisted of 100 life-size iron casts of the artist’s own naked body staring moodily out to sea. Although some of the figures have been moved, there are still plenty of them there – some up to their waist in the sand, some standing proud and tall, some further out where just the head can be seen as the tide begins to rise.  The thing about this sculpture is, it is never, ever the same.  The sky is an ever changing palate of colour, the sea rises and falls and the sand shifts along with it. Even the figures – staunchly fixed and immobile, are changing – time and  tide are taking their toll as the metal changes colour and barnacles begin to grown on them. In harmony with sea, sky and elements, Gormley has created an artwork which changes minute by minute.  As if to echo this, behind the figures is a huge swathe of  rubble from Liverpool’s wartime bombing, gradually being softened and made beautiful by the elements. Change is here to stay…

Taken on my phone - August 14th 2011

As a preacher, I preach the unchanging Word of God. I preach it in a context where time, tide and fashions come and go but the Word remains the same.  We may perceive it differently, just as the men in Another Place have different ‘moods’ in the first rays of the morning sun or the last glow of sunset – but it remains unchanged. Or does it? As I have pointed out above, the ‘permament’ fixture in Gormley’s artwork isn’t as permanent as it seems- salt water corrosion and marine life will see to that.

As the years pass I become more and more aware of the intrusion of personality into the interpretative process. We perceive the Bible through the lens of our own experiences, and those of the people who explain it to us. This is not a bad thing, though. God, who inspired the Word and who inspires its servants is well aware of this process. If he entrusts the communication of his Word to people with all their flaws he must know what He is doing. In fact, the changing faces of interpretation then become part of his greater work of creativity – even as cast iron, sand, wind and water work together in Another Place.

Have you ever thought of yourself as part of God’s greater artwork, I wonder?

One of the reasons that Gormley chose to cast his own body for the figures was that , unlike classical statuary, he is just an ‘ordinary bloke’.  In this collaborative artwork between man and nature -an ordinary bloke plays his part. As I walked between the statues on Crosby Beach yesterday I was listening to Joan Osborne’s song ‘One of us’ – seems quite appropriate really.

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