Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers and Tides

By Della Watson

November 20, 2014

For British artist Andy Goldsworthy, the natural world is canvas, material, and companion: "Art for me is a form of nourishment. I need the land," he declares at the start of Thomas Riedelsheimer's quietly expressive documentary. Goldsworthy's site-specific sculptures are formed from twigs, rocks, ice, leaves, and flowers. In a Zen-like approach, the artist spends hours cultivating moments of fleeting beauty: the mysterious shapes revealed as clay dries and cracks, the ethereal line formed by the sunlight hitting stretched wool at a certain angle, or the colors created by red-rock shavings splashing into a stream and dissolving. 

Though the footage of "finished" sculptures is stunning, the crux of Goldsworthy's artistry is just as apparent in the "failures." Every collapse helps him better understand the materials he uses. The fourth time a stone cairn collapses like a set of Jenga blocks, Goldsworthy muses, "I obviously don't understand it well enough."

To say that the documentary delivers a poignant message about humanity's place in an ever-changing world is to acknowledge that human existence is as temporary as a melting ice sculpture and that the environmental impact of a billion people is like the wave that overtakes Goldsworthy's beach sculptures.

But Goldsworthy's art is more joyful than either of those solemn, sweeping statements suggests. "It doesn't feel at all like destruction," he says. And anyone who has ever built a sand castle or knocked over a tower of blocks knows that there is a sense of release and an inherent humor in making something that will immediately be destroyed. Watching Goldsworthy build and set free his creations is a reminder that life, though brief, is beautiful.