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Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (2001)

Cast: Andy Goldsworthy, Andy Goldsworthy
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer, Thomas Riedelsheimer
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Docurama
Genre: Documentary, Foreign, Art, Scandinavia
Running Time: 90 min.
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Recently Rented By DLeonard

Documentarian Thomas Riedelsheimer shows us Andy Goldsworthy as he creates art in natural settings using natural materials such as driftwood, ice, mud, leaves, and stones. Goldsworthy comments on his "earthworks" and occasionally responds to offscreen questions from Riedelsheimer while he painstakingly builds his outdoors sculptures. With some exceptions, such as a winding stone wall that he built in Mountainville, NY, Goldsworthy's creations are intentionally mutable works. We see how several of them fall apart, melt, or drift away due to exposure to the elements; we also see, for example, a complex structure of interconnected sticks collapse while Goldsworthy is still working on it. Riedelsheimer takes us to Goldsworthy's home in Penport, Scotland, and to a French museum, but the emphasis of the film is on observing Goldsworthy at work. ~ Todd Kristel, All Movie Guide

Winners of GreenCine's Rivers and Tides Essay Contest, 2004:

I've always been enamored of both art and artifacts left by humans in a natural setting, from footsteps across a sandy beach and contrails in the sky, to the works of Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty). I like the artifacts because they are largely unintentional, and even if they were built on purpose (sand castles, a snowman) they have a quality of impermanence that to me still defines them as part of the natural environment. When an artist creates a work of art out of natural materials, situated IN a natural setting, I see it as a tribute to the forces of nature... It might sit in the water very much like a natural sand bar, but looking at it you would see very clearly that it has the imprint of a human mind. Those are usually more permanent, but they are still subject to the tides, the weather, the forces of nature in the setting around them.

Another way I think of them is as a gift, or offering, or a sacrifice man makes to Mother Earth. As part of ritual, Navajo Indians make elaborate paintings on the ground with colored sand. At the end of the ritual, the grains of sand are scattered to the winds and rain, and the creative human force and spirit that went into creating it is released to the universe. Even a cairn of flat stones, despite its solemn weight, has an unfinished look that declares that it's still a part of the environment rather than a purposeful structure. It's as if the artist or builder is saying, "Look, this is something man built to be part of nature, not something he built to stand apart."

Once I was working on a film on Baffin Island... there was a day off and I trekked out to do a bit of exploring on my own. I made it to the top of a ridge, and I could see our camp, our tents and vehicles just visible against the place where flat snow-covered land gave way to a sea of bumpy ice, just starting to break up under the warmth of perpetual late spring daylight. Other than our camp, there was no visible sign of man in the miles and miles of arctic vista stretching out all around me. I could have walked back down, but the slope below me was impossible to resist, and I sat and slid all the way back down to sea level on my butt. As I walked back to camp I kept looking back to see if the diagonal scar I left in the pristine snow down the side of the ridge was still visible. With binoculars I could still clearly see it, even from our tents. It made me happy because it was like a giant calligraphy stroke... it was gone the next day of course... the arctic "nights" were windy.

Today I watched a PBS show about the history of the Earth, and the beginning of life... Some of these events happened billions of years ago. It set me to musing that the art of people like Andy Goldsworthy is a reminder... that man's existence in this universe has been just a blip in the history of even just our planet. Some day, even the biggest, most permanent of the structures and monuments we build will crumble and fall, leaving just the howling of winds and the flow of rivers and tides. Some people believe that art confers a kind of immortality on the artist, but I'm not so sure... Maybe the beauty of art is that it shows us that there is a human spirit that's alive right here, today. Each human life is relatively short and impermanent but it's still wonderful, and art is how we celebrate that...
-- Hamano

Seeing an Andy Goldsworthy feels like the discovery of an ancient civilization. Macchu Picchu and Angkor Wat have been stripped by rain, plant growth, and wind to the essence of engineering--one stone stacked on another. Goldsworthy's sculpture captures this--humankind's first sorcery--in a way that reminds me of what is best (or at least most enduring) about us. -- Wes2666

What I find most inspiring about Andy Goldsworthy is that he seems to have a profound understanding of how to experience a moment as it occurs and then to accept and embrace the changes that immediately follow. It doesn't seem likely that the anxiety and disappointment that most people feel when they watch their snowman melt under the sun or their sand castle crumble into the sea is shared by Andy Goldsworthy. On the contrary, he and his work seem to celebrate the inevetible transformations that take place in nature, and in life. Its as if he writes novels that cannot be read more than once. If you flip back to re-read the pages you've already read then you'll find that they are now composed of something completely different. It is now a different book altogether, and will continue to be each time that you re-read it.

What truly sets AG apart from most artists is that his work (with the aid of mother nature) can evolve before your very eyes. I don't know of any paintings, sculptures, structures, poems, books, films, or songs that can do that, and that to me is very inspiring. The closest I have ever come to creating art like this in the natural world was when I once wrote my name in snow using only my urine (natural graffiti, if you will). After ten minutes of melting and steaming "Kasey" soon looked more like "Rosey." What can I say, I'm no Goldsworthy. -- KGunn

GreenCine Member Reviews

Andy Goldsworthy may be the world's ultimate sustainable artist. by humorme February 24, 2008 - 5:36 PM PST
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful
[Note: Please don't read if you want to be surprised by the art Goldsworthy creates because I discuss some of it.] As the biography states, "Using a variety of materials including leaves, twigs, flower petals, pine cones, sand, snow and stone, his work addresses the idea that artwork too has a natural life that eventually must end."

That ebb and flow of nature and human life is masterfully illustrated throughout this compelling and perhaps unnerving film as the impermanence of everything, including rock, is explored.

A dome-like stick structure is built where the river meets the sea and the current carries it almost gently away as if it were "taken off into another world". This interaction of his work with natural forces changes his creation and he says makes it more than it was, sort of like how upheaval and transition in our human lives create opportunity for making more of what we were. At one point, he says, "The real work is the change."

The film is made even more powerful by being in Goldsworthy's own words because he has an amazing sense of the deeper meanings. "Art for me is a form of nourishment...I want to understand that state and that energy that I have in me that I also feel in the plants and in the land."

Visual imagery and symbolism repeat, both in Goldsworthy's art and in the natural landscape around him. Goldsworthy twists leaves and pins them with thorns creating a spiral. And the serpentine form represents flow and energy in the amazing wall at the Storm King Art Center in New York. Goldsworthy speaks of the interrelationships and states he is "interested in understanding the processes of change and growth". Those trees that originally found protection in the old stones will eventually destroy the wall and he says, "Growth is stronger than the stone".

Goldsworthy also explores color, which is shocking and dramatic in his use of ground red rock, as well as red clay water 'bombs'. Throwing snow in the air creates white spirit-like shapes. The artful cinematography combined with Goldsworthy's wisdom, and mood-enhancing music by Fred Frith make this a profound, beautiful and mesmerizing film. (And I really like those cute alpine cows.)

Art & Life as Transitory by talltale October 6, 2004 - 2:01 PM PDT
1 out of 4 members found this review helpful
Does art imitate life, and if so, should it also imitate life's mortality--its transitory nature? DaVinci and his peers may have been able to view his "Mona" in her later years, but for us today she remains as youthful and mysterious as ever. And she's still here. These thoughts occurred to me as I watched RIVERS AND TIDES, the award-winning documentary about Scot artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose creations are as impermanent as life. In fact, they tend to self-destruct/disappear much faster than most lives. Watching as this artist creates his beautiful, disappearing pieces (some last longer than others)--in an amazing range of media--is interesting for a while, and he seems to be able to speak intelligently about his work (something a number of artists simply cannot do--and maybe it's better they don't). Seeing Goldsworthy almost finish a piece and then have it go to pieces involuntarily and accidentally is shocking and upsetting, but this seems to happen almost as often as not. I'm glad I saw this film but I must admit growing tired of the artist's drone and his somewhat masochistic creation of phantom art. While this choice reflects his genuine concern for the ways in which art and life are transitory, the movie finally made me most grateful for artists who work in more permanent media. Nothing lasts forever, but a few centuries ought to count for something, no? To each his own...

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 8.04)
218 Votes
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