Art is a form of nourishment, true, but Appellate Judge James A. Stewart suggests you prepare a cheese tray before you watch this exhibition of works by a master of the ephemeral.
"Art for me is a form of nourishment. I need the land. I need it."—Andy Goldsworthy
"When I make a work, I often take it to the very edge of its collapse, and that's a very beautiful balance."—Andy Goldsworthy
If you've ever thought it would be nice if adults could make a living while lying on the ground in the rain, playing in dirt, walking amid trees, and watching the tides come in, watching Andy Goldsworthy will be a revelatory experience. He lives a life which many have only dreamed about.
Of course, I'll have to burst your bubble here and point out that the Scottish artist has to generate some kind of results from his activities, and that takes a lot of work—shaping prickly bracken and lifting blocks of ice, for example. As his text biography puts it, Goldsworthy "collaborates with nature to make his creations," using such materials as twigs, petals, ice, and stone. Since he's working with nature, much of that work is ephemeral, so he might create a work of art only to see it wash out with the tide or melt from the midday sun.
Those works won't be shown in a museum, except in the photos Goldsworthy takes of them. But you can see some of them for yourself in the special two-disc collector's edition of Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides: Working With Time, which follows him as he creates a spider web of bracken in a tree, uses natural pigments to make a river flow red, and makes an impression on the concrete by lying down in the rain. The movie shows how Goldsworthy lets nature take over—surrounding a stone cone with greenery, autumn leaves, and snow, for example. It also shows him at work on more permanent creations, such as a stone wall that weaves its way through the trees in a New York state sculpture park or the numerous stone cones he builds.
Rivers and Tides has already taken home plenty of honors; it won the Grand Prix award at the Festival du Film du Monde in Montreal, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle award for best documentary, and the San Francisco Film Festival Golden Gate Award.
Filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer has created a movie that simply looks beautiful, making Goldsworthy and his works seem like just another aspect of the natural landscape. He fills his movie with the gentle lapping of seas and rivers, pans of majestic snow-covered mountains and hills, and time-lapse images of Goldsworthy's works as nature makes its artistic contributions. Riedelsheimer is concentrating mostly on the art itself, with some scenes looking like that coffee-table book come to life. One scene, with Goldsworthy creating an ephemeral version of his stone cones, only shows the artist at the moment when his work falls apart and doesn't even show whomever is assisting Goldsworthy; this touch makes the artist's work seem even more solitary than it must be.
The non-anamorphic widescreen picture reveals broad panoramas as Riedelsheimer's camera lingers on the works. The natural light leaves the picture a little dark or washed out in places, but the transfer's great. The sound is a mix of natural sounds, comments by Goldsworthy, and a mesmerizing score by Fred Frith which blends classical and new age styles into a sound that soothes and relaxes.
Though there are some quotes by Goldsworthy and you do get to see him at work, the movie leaves a lot of blanks. Thankfully, the short films that accompany it expand our sense of what Goldsworthy does. "The Stone King Wall," the longest of these segments at 19:58, goes deeper into Goldsworthy's discussion of the learning process that surrounds his ephemeral works and the way he creates. The other films, about 24 minutes combined, each tackle some other aspect of Goldsworthy's work, some without dialogue. Notable here is "The Old Studio," which wordlessly wanders through his studio in Penpont, Scotland, an art-filled landscape that resembles a cross between an explosion scene and a set from Planet of the Apes. The additional films turn Rivers and Tides into a more satisfying experience than the film alone would have been.
Disc Two presents more short features: "Snowballs in Summer" follows Goldsworthy as he deposits giant snowballs on the streets of London on June 21, 2000, Midsummer's Day. Though Goldsworthy comments at one point, this short mostly relies on ambient sound and reactions—many non-verbal—of the people who see the snowballs; the first seven minutes show Goldsworthy and his team unloading the snowballs from a freezer truck.
There's also an interview with Director Thomas Riedelsheimer. It's in a man-answers-unseen-questioner format for 45 minutes or so with no visuals other than the relatively static shot of Riedelsheimer sitting in front of a movie poster. While the director's comments are interesting, the interview format is not. Either cut it down to his choicest quotes or do something to liven it up, like maybe showing examples from the movie, please!
Photo galleries on the DVD and in the accompanying booklet provide a few examples of Goldsworthy's work for closer study. The booklet is hardcover, with the discs slipping into jackets inside the cover; it's a neat way to present the DVD package.
At times, Rivers and Tides seems like a New Age music video, making us concentrate on Riedelsheimer's images rather than Goldsworthy's work. Still, it's an interesting way to present some unusual works of art that you might not otherwise get to see. If you've spent some time in art galleries, you should find this ephemeral art exhibit in permanent movie form intriguing.
Not guilty. Andy Goldsworthy's works might be ephemeral, but the DVD holds up much better than a snowball on Midsummer's Day.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Seven Short Films: The Stone King Wall, Autumn Works, Garlic Leaves, Ice Arch, Black Stone, Leaf Works and The Old Studio
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.