Rivers and Tides
Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time
review by Elias Savada, 4 April 2003

As this ninety-minute English-dialogue, German-financed documentary continues to expand its U.S. engagements (where it premiered in early January), audiences are enjoying a naturally enchanting visit with a most unusual artist. Thomas Riedelsheimer's award-winning film is a spellbinding study of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish land-sculptor who creates location-specific work using only the organic vegetation and minerals found in his "studio." The film arrives courtesy of American distributor Roxie Releasing, a San Francisco-based company handling contemporary indie product (Henry Brommell's Panic my favorite amongst these) and some unusual classic titles (including Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, and his obscure Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street).

This temporary study of mostly temporal set pieces easily bonds with the captive-time element of the audio-visual medium. Without Riedelsheimer's constantly panning camera showing us Goldsworthy unique artistic course of action/reaction, the only remnant of the Goldsworthy's creative days would be relegated to their two-dimensional reproductions through 35mm slides and still photographs. Although Goldsworthy's art has been chronicled in numerous collections, watching it evolve via a cinematic/digital process adds a fascinating component. The numerous coffee-table books may capture the shape, the scope, and the moment, but since this particular artist sculpts on a chronologically demanding canvas, the camera acts as the missing recording mechanism that, save us being there at the time of creation, allows us at least the ability to watch each birth as a near-metaphysical event. "Art, for me, is a form of nourishment," comments the Scotsman early in the film; we, the viewers, are allowed the share his meal.

Coupling the moving images with an intoxicating score by Fred Firth, this film is often mesmerizing. The changing process of sculpting (versus the static viewing of sculpture) entrances as the camera deliberately tracks the artist visually and figuratively. At first Goldsworthy shares his innermost thoughts on conception, then arranges the initial stages of preparation (think of a hobbyist arranging all the parts of a model airplane before assembling them), followed by the urgent states of birth and growth, through to the ensuing, but not necessarily final, static condition. Even at this culminating moment, the structure is capable of additional change in the hands of nature, such as a large bleached driftwood beehive caught up in the motion of a river's flow, or a conical piling of rocks submerging in a rising tide. Hence the film's perfect ebb-and-flow title. Sometimes there is stability in the art, often not. Yet in those moments of failure (rocks shift, twigs break) caused by "too many unknowns," we witness the enlightenment of the artistic vision.

This is a fascinating study, vibrant beyond the shade of the brilliant coloring that might occur in a given imaginative occurrence. Pigments could be the greens of leaves, the reds of crushed rock, the whiteness of snow. Wood, stone, mud, dirt, roots, flowers, foliage, moss, ice, water, even sheep's wool, are some of the organic materials that comprise Goldsworthy's multi-dimensional canvas. His bare, grizzled hands (and sometimes his teeth) are his brushes; his bruised fingernails scream for your (or a doctor's) attention. His easel could be a grassy field, a rock-strewn meadow, a gravelly coastline, or other serene setting.

His trademark squiggles and snakes, reminiscent of the meandering of a river, are just a few of the artistic arcs present. Riedelsheimer's contribution is an astute camera placement, brilliantly complimenting the art and artist, whether capturing a pink sunset reflected in the water or an aerial view showing us the cycle of turning. On a more necessary level, Goldsworthy asks the filmmaker to put his camera aside and help him with a rock formation. Someone else catches this moment for us.

When not at his home base with his wife and four blonde-haired moppets in Penpoint, Scotland, the small pastoral village where he has resided the last dozen years, Goldsworthy's at play in the fields and streams of the lord. One huge installation during the last third of the film is at Storm King Sculpture Park in Mountainville, New York, where we witness the genius of an artist accustomed to observing the way time has changed landscapes, the way nature balances each changing moment, and how he can create a startling, fluid river of stone that reflects a profound vision.

There's something magical in Rivers and Tides. Let the artist play on.

Directed by:
Thomas Riedelsheimer

Rated:
NR - Not Rated.
This film has
not been rated.

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