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Andy Goldsworthy

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Rivers And Tides:
Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time

director: Thomas Riedelsheimer

90 minutes (unrated) 2002
Roxie DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Amy Harlib
A cinematic treasure that made the limited distribution rounds and is now available on DVD, that rarity, a film about an artist equalling the subject in artistry, comes in the form of a feature-length documentary that deservedly won the Golden Gate Award, grand prize for best documentary at the 2002 San Francisco Film Festival. German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer spent over a year following the 46-year-old Scottish sculptor, conceptual/ expressionistic artist Andy Goldsworthy - bearded, soft-spoken, ruggedly handsome, fit and charismatic - while he worked entirely outdoors in several locations (his efforts rarely intended for directly conventional galleries), creating mutable sculptures he calls earthworks. Although Goldsworthy's projects get documented in photographs that are exhibited and that get published in coffee-table books like: Time by Andy Goldsworthy, photos by Terry Friedman (Abrams, 2000), Mr Riedelsheimer's film captures a dynamic process that still pictures barely convey.

In Rivers And Tides we see Mr Goldsworthy making his beautiful organic constructions, site-specific works in Zen-like harmony with the elements, for his ingenious patterns of twigs, wood chips, grass, mud, flowers and flower petals, leaves, stone and ice move and erode over time embodying continuing cycles of creation, destruction and renewal. Riedelsheimer's intimate documentation reveals Goldsworthy's improvisational approach and, using the artist's own voice to narrate and explain his concepts, depicts the subtly dazzling spectacle of his endeavours and their gradual changes.

Goldsworthy's mindset and modus operandi remarkably resembles the idea behind Tibetan sand paintings - devoting much time, effort and creativity to produce something complex and lovely out of material that, due to entirely natural forces, will dissolve in a relatively short period - a celebratory recognition of the evanescence of life, making the most of the short time we experience existence.

A memorable moment in Rivers And Tides portrays Goldsworthy in Nova Scotia crafting a typically exquisite and fragile serpentine chain of vividly hued autumnal leaves that are set afloat down a babbling brook where the current carries it hither and yon, animating this object as if it were a live thing until the water's motion pulls it apart, never mind that leaves will decompose inevitably. The point is the breathtakingly beautiful effect lingering briefly and then so quickly dissipating. More telling scenes show the artist on the just-mentioned Canadian location's rocky coast noted for its dramatic tides. There, Goldsworthy nibbles on icicles to shape them, then he fuses them onto a craggy rock-face until they create a sinuous, snake-like meander of curves that glow in the sunlight while melting.

Further exemplary sequences depict the building of two man-sized egg-shaped structures of layered, carefully balanced stones - one by the ocean, the other in the midst of a field - then the film chronicles the surging and receding tides eroding the first ovoid while the second one gradually becomes submerged by blossoming vegetation as spring and summer progress. Then, hanging suspended from the branches of a tree, there's the remarkable, intricate web-like net of twigs that suddenly falls apart when a breeze upsets the delicate balance of his lacy hanging artwork while Goldsworthy muses: "the very thing that brings the work to life is the thing that will cause its death."

Goldsworthy's output is not all sweetness and light for he takes care to: elucidate on the hazards of handling bracken which causes his hands to bleed; remark on the effort it takes to keep warm manipulating ice with bare hands since gloves prevent needed sensitivity and dexterity; examine the denuding of the vegetation of his Scotland homeland's landscape by the grazing of the ubiquitous flocks of the sheepherders; use iron-rich stones ground to a powder which then gets sprinkled into a stream to create an arrestingly disturbing image of a bleeding earth.

Riedelsheimer's elegant camera work does full justice to Goldsworthy's ephemeral craft which like cinema, is time-based, reminding us all of the inexorable truth of mortality yet the overall effect is anything but melancholy - rather rapturous actually. It is gorgeous movie making perfectly accompanied by Fred Frith's evocative, modernist and melodic score that pauses plenty of times to allow the pleasure of the ambient sounds of wind and rushing rivers and pounding surf to be savoured.

As images flow by, the way life itself flows, the way Goldsworthy's art perfectly expresses this fleeting nature of existence, the feeling one gets is refreshing, even exhilarating. Though some of what Goldsworthy produces can be displayed in permanent or long-term modes (like the winding wall which Riedelsheimer shot during its construction at the Storm King Arts Centre in Mountainville, New York), most of it exemplifies impermanence and encourages meditation on unavoidable temporality.

Thank goodness for this German documentarian's excellent record of Goldsworthy's worthy ephemera, enabling a much wider audience to become aware of it and to appreciate it than would be otherwise possible. The result of this filmmaker/ artist collaboration is exquisite visually, poetic and glorious emotionally and wondrous aesthetically. In a world where so many human beings create so much ugliness, Rivers And Tides uplifts and offers hope by portraying Goldsworthy, a free spirit of our time, creating such beauty in harmony with the environment and with life itself!

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