“It is the flow, not the water, that is important – a river of wind, animals, birds, insects, people, seasons, climate, stone, earth, colour.”
Andy Goldsworthy in the film Rivers and Tides
A lone figure appears across a desolate, icy landscape. The man finds a place on the rocks at the mouth of a river flowing into the sea, and surveys the space. Even though he is a stranger to Nova Scotia, Canada, he starts work immediately. It is still dark outside but he seems to be in a race against the warmth of the sun, which soon will be emerging from below the horizon. Working in sub-freezing temperatures, he breaks off icicles from the rocks and trims them with his teeth, fusing them with the warmth of his bare hands, carefully setting them in place. An icicle snake emerges from the rock, reaching towards the sky, illuminated by the sunrise against the cliff face.
The man is English sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. “It is hard, hard going and it is cold sometimes on the hands, and I do get up very early. And all the effort is ultimately going into trying to make something that is effortless.” Energy and life flow through Andy’s achingly beautiful works of art. He creates sculptures out of completely natural materials – leaves, grass, flowers, branches, mud, snow, ice, and stone. His work is intimately connected to and influenced by the environment in which it is made, touching the heart of the place. It is a participatory type of art, one that relies on what nature offers him. Andy’s art is evocatively depicted in Thomas Riedelsheimer’s documentary Rivers and Tides.
The sea and the river are the biggest influences in Andy’s work; a creative dynamic flow permeates everything he creates. “My first view of the beach was a river and a pool that was being turned by the river. I am trying to touch and understand that motion, the flow and the meeting of the river and the sea, the two waters meeting,” he says.
A ribbon of green leaves sewn together with pine needles floats on a river, like a long snake, following the current, twisting and turning, submerging, reappearing again. A small waterfall turns red with pigment ground from stones rich in iron, a splash of colour running down the stream. A dialogue with the flow of water. “The river is the line that I follow… That line running through, yet having a cycle related to the weather and the sea.”
The creative dynamic flow in Andy’s engagement with the sea and the river gives energy to his practice. For him, art is a form of nourishment. “I need the land, I need it. I want to understand that state, the energy that I have in me that I also feel in the plants and in the landscape. The energy in life that is flowing through the landscape.”
Andy’s creative process is reflective. He is fully present as he tunes in to the environment, listening for the essence of things. Stones are speaking to him, alive and expressive. He seems to instinctively know when to act and when to step back. He does not impose on the system, but works with elements of the system in a fluid way, open to what emerges in the moment. For him, control can be the death of a work.
Some of Andy’s sculptures can last for just a few seconds. What is important to him is not the lasting nature of his creations, but the experience of creating them, the process of engaging with the context, the weather, and the materials available on site. “I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and ‘found’ tools – a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn.”
A large, drystone wall meanders through parkland in the Storm King Sculpture Park in New York State. The sculpture, titled Storm King Wall, weaves around the trees, leading out of the forest, and ends in a creek. Andy notes that the sense of movement is very important in understanding the sculpture: “The river of stone as it runs around the trees, the river of growth that is the forest… has made me aware of that flow around the world, the veins that run around the world.”
‘Not Doing’ is out now!
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