The opportunity to watch an artist as they create works of art is rare. Thankfully, the film River and Tides (2001), a documentary on the land artist Andy Goldsworthy, offers the opportunity to do so.
The viewing of the documentary took place at The Horse Hospital in Russell Square, as one of this month’s Love Art London event (See post 01 March for more details or check out their website: www.loveartlondon.com). An appropriate venue to say the least: built in the late 18th century originally stables for sick horses, it is now a Grade II listed building and a staple to the contemporary London art scene. (Check it out athttp://www.thehorsehospital.com/).
The documentary follows Goldsworthy around the globe as he creates site-specific works in Canada, the U.S. and Scotland. It offers an intimate view of the artist’s emotional relationship with his works of art. On the beach, the audience shares Goldsworthy’s frustration as a stone sculpture falls apart multiple times. The audience also shares his pleasure when an ice sculpture he creates is hit by the rising sun at such an angle that it is illuminated in gold. He works in extreme weather conditions of the early mornings – through hard rain and snow. But, he explains, “Good art keeps you warm.”
Intertwined with site-specific works, the audience is privy to watch Goldsworthy on his farm in Scotland where much of his experiments in nature take place. There, he learns how to work with different materials to determine how they react to his touch. His materials are very much alive and in order to work with them, he explains, he must understand them. Close-up shots of bruised nails and bandaged fingers illustrates the constant contact he has with nature.
So much of Goldsworthy’s work is fleeting: rock sculptures by the shore will be taken by the tide, the ice sculpture will melt with the rising sun. Some of this ‘destruction’ is filmed in detail, but, as Goldsworthy explains, he took the materials from their space, given them a new purpose, and then the earth will reclaim those objects as she deems fit.
The danger of a documentary like this is that the filming feels forced or the artist rehearsed. Director Thomas Riedelsheimer accomplishes the film with great sincerity and captures Goldsworthy’s complex relationship with nature.