In my line of work, I’m often asked what my favorite movies are. And no matter how often the question comes up, it always seems to take me by surprise. I usually babble out three or four titles that pop into my head right that minute—say, Chinatown; Annie Hall; Memento; Grand Illusion. The selection usually varies, according to my mood in the moment.
But one title I always include on the list is Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer’s stirring 2001 documentary about the life and extraordinary work of “environmental artist” Andy Goldsworthy. Not a conventional biographical doc, it says little about Scotsman Goldsworthy’s personal life. Instead, it’s a vibrant joyride through themes of art, time and nature, expressed through the artist’s powerful, yet intentionally impermanent constructions—required viewing for anyone looking to jumpstart your own creative energy.
Artists and movie lovers who made Rivers and Tides such a long-running hit in Santa Cruz will be thrilled that filmmaker Riedelsheimer once again teams up with Goldsworthy for a new doc, Leaning Into the Wind. It’s an invigorating portrait of the artist 16 years later: older, mellower (perhaps) but no less questing, as he travels the globe revisiting old work (or what’s left of it), setting himself new challenges, and always seeking new ways to look at art, his work, and life.
Goldsworthy continues to be obsessed with the colors, shapes, and movement found in nature. He’s also fascinated by the spirit that lies beneath modern surfaces, whether rural landscape or urban street. Typically, he works with natural materials (leaves, twigs) meant to be altered or destroyed by the caprices of nature. Or else he builds mammoth constructions like an undulating labyrinth of clay brick arches called “Stone Sea,” installed at the St. Louis Art Museum.
In another piece, he sculpts a serpentine burrow up the side of a wall with red clay from Brazil, then lets nature do its work. The clay dries out, and the colors of the piece continue to alter, as a network of unplannable, utterly mesmerizing cracks and fissures complete this enthralling work.
Goldsworthy says he didn’t learn to do this at art school; he credits years spent on a farm for his bond with nature and craftsmanship. There are “two ways of looking at the world,” he muses. “You can walk on the path or you can walk through the hedge.” This is not metaphor, as we see him crawling branch-to-branch about four feet off the ground along a leafless hedge in winter. (Art, he says, “can alter your perspective in a very profound way.”) Later, in the city, green leaves rustle portentously in a dense ornamental hedge as strollers pass by on the sidewalk—until Goldsworthy himself pops out of the end of the hedge, brushes himself off, and ambles off on his way.
Another way he’s inserting himself into his art is by simply lying on the ground—on a slab of country stone, or city concrete—during a light rainfall, or a dusting of snow. When he hops up again, he leaves a crime-scene outline as an after-image on the landscape—but only for a few minutes, until the silhouette begins to fill up with raindrops or fresh snow. Another time, Goldsworthy (ably assisted by his adult daughter, Holly) wraps his hands, including each separate digit, in strips of wet, red flower petals, then holds his hands under a creekside waterfall to wash downriver, staining the creek with a stripe of vibrant color.
Goldsworthy chuckles at admirers who claim, he “floats” or “glides” through nature. “I fall. A lot,” he tells us. “But you have to learn to fall.”
In perhaps the movie’s most haunting, ironically indelible image, the artist sculpts a portal shaped like a man-sized scarab, and positions it near a dark, rocky chamber. When the full moon rises, light alone projects this glowing image of breathtaking beauty and no substance at all, into the darkness.
This movie is a feast. Peel your orbs and dig in!
LEANING INTO THE WIND: ANDY GOLDSWORTHY
With Andy Goldsworthy. Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer. A Magnolia release. (PG) 93 minutes.