January 16, 2005

Viewing Log: Andy Goldsworthy

British sculptor, born 1956, living in rural Scotland. Goldsworthy creates ephemeral art from the materials of nature, set in the landscapes in which he finds those materials. An arch made of slabs of snow that melt in the sun as the days go on. A large ovoid made of smooth beach stones, placed where the high tide will drown and dismantle it. A circle of patterned leaves stuck with the artist’s saliva to the face of a cliff, where the wind will blow them away.

Goldsworthy is descended from the British and American “land” sculptors of the late 1960s and 1970s, but unlike them he is not urban, edgy, ironic, or cool. He does not apologize for the fact that his work is beautiful. To archive his works, he photographs each one himself, adding a poem–length title that describes the landscape and weather in which the work was made, and the photographs are of slick, coffee–table–book quality rather than the deliberately careless throwaways that used to be popular in his genre. He understands evanescence, and welcomes it as an intrinsic part of his work, but he doesn’t strike a puristic pose about it. Implicitly he salutes the doomed, brave human longing to endure.

Because of that, his work is available in several books and in a 90–minute documentary (now on DVD) that has done very well on the festival circuit. It’s called RIVERS AND TIDES and it shows Goldsworthy making his art, seeking his materials, deciding how to work with them (sewing leaves into a line by using their stems as thread; using his hands to melt ice blocks which he then refreezes in the cold air), and sometimes failing (piles of sticks or stones that he has spent hours carefully balancing may suddenly fall, or on a difficult patch of ground he may tumble into his own construction). With what loving patience he builds things he knows can’t last!

What I’ve learned from him, aside from the acceptance of ephemerality: he tries to make something every day, however small, and he knows that in most months, only a few of his efforts will work out.

An exhibit of Goldsworthy’s work, including the video RIVERS AND TIDES, is at theAustin Museum of Art till Feb, 20.