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Rivers and Tides (and blood-red rocks) [18 Jul 2002|03:04pm]

As you may have gathered, I'm a big fan of public art. And site-specific art, and in general

any art that takes place outside the hallowed confines of a museum. I like the

prehistoric/modern notion that we can destroy the barrier between art and life. I don't want

to worship art. I want to breathe it and touch it and see it in the world.


In the last entry, I had originally written that Harrell Fletcher's work is "incredible". But

upon further reflection, I went back and cut out that word. Superlatives lose all meaning if

used indiscriminately. Fletcher is a talented guy. But he's not incredible, in the

truest sense of the word. He doesn't amaze me to such a degree that I can scarcely believe it.


Andy Goldsworthy, on the other hand, is an artist who does just that. Dana and I went to see

Rivers and Tides last

Friday, and it was incredible. Fucking incredible. I demand that you go see this movie as

soon as possible.


Rivers and Tides is a documentary about Goldsworthy-- an environmental artist who makes

sculptures from pieces of ice, fallen leaves, flowers, driftwood. He doesn't use any

artificial materials. His work almost always takes place in a temporal context-- the things

he makes are made to be consumed by the incoming tide, or covered in winter snow, or washed

out by the rain. What's interesting about "Rivers and Tides" is that, unlike a traditional

documentary, there is no real distinction between the film and the thing being documented.

Essentially, Goldsworthy's work is impossible to understand in the context of a single

photograph (or even a single day). In order to fully appreciate what he does, you have to see

the genesis of his ideas and then watch as they come to fruition. So in a way, the

documentary isn't about his art so much as it is his art.


The reason I say his sculptures are incredible is that, over & over in the film, you'll see

the germs of his ideas and think: "ah, that's gonna be lame." E.g. he'll be picking up little

stones or discolored reeds and talking about how he feels them, how he connects with the

environment, and you have no idea what he's trying to do. But then when you see the final result, it's inevitably breathtaking. His idiosyncratic sculptures are designed to appear "effortless". This simplicity, along with the use of natural materials, gives his art a paradoxical timelessness that more traditional artists would envy.


Some of the things he does in the movie-- like the black circle comprised of reed-ends around a tree, or the performance where he hurls clumps of powdered

snow and rock fragments into the air through different seasons-- struck me at such a basic

level that I gasped. I've gotten so used to interpreting art-- to seeing a painting or

reading a book and deciding what it means to me-- that when something pierces through my

interpretive shell and touches my pure aesthetic sense, it really shocks me. At times I

believe that there is NO SUCH THING as "pure aesthetic sense"-- how can you experience

something without any reference to culture, tradition, what your friends think, whether it's

trendy, etc? But then I see something like Rivers and Tides and it reminds me that there

are submerged instincts lying beneath the surface of perception, and that these instincts can

be stirred to produce an unmitigated sensation of beauty.


Rivesr and Tides doesn't give you much detail about Goldsworthy's life, beyond a few comical scenes in which he plays with his three young children. I watched those scenes with faint disbelief-- the guy has children?! He's so hermit-like, I'd half expected him to be living in a cave. Actually, scratch 'hermit'-- he's more like a druid. His empathy with the environment is overwhelmingly

apparent throughout the movie. As he piles stones on top of each

other, he tells us that what's he's doing is learning about the rocks, gaining deeper knowledge. Every time his precarious design topples, he starts over, having learned a little more. From some tie-died Berkeley hippie type this would sound fatuous, but from Goldsworthy it sounds like the simple truth.


The profundity of Goldsworthy's work isn't marred

by pretension or excessive theory -- although he's certainly capable of interpreting what he

does, he generally lets the work speak for itself. You can see all sorts of metaphors in it (the passage of time in human life, turbulence, struggle, etc) but for me, what

lingers isn't so much a metaphorical significance as a feeling that Goldsworthy has drawn out

some previously invisible aspect of the land-- the way a current runs, the startling blood-red

hue of iron-flecked rocks-- and brought it into a clearer light.
This may be the most beautiful aspect of his art-- after you see it, you feel closer to the
natural world. In such a way are relationships forged.


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