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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Rivers and Tides
Yesterday, after some (almost) final art camp shopping and the obligatory University Ave. stop at Than Bros. pho (the pho is excellent and giveaway cheap, but it’s the free custard puff that keeps me going back), R and I went to see Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time at the Varsity. It’s the second time we’ve seen it in the course of three months (the first viewing was as part of our New York cultural whirl back in January), but if anything it was even more impressive second time around.

I love art and I love movies, but off-hand I don’t remember any fabulous art movies. I don’t mean biopics like Pollock and Frida, but documentaries showing artists doing their job and talking about it. That’s what Rivers and Tides is about—a normal Northern bloke tromping about in perpetually bad weather (when his hands aren’t freezing or he isn’t standing or lying around in driving rain it seems to be blindingly sunny) creating these ephemeral, brilliant (often literally) “works.” Goldsworthy uses that term repeatedly, which would normally set off my pretension meter, but in his case it really seems appropriate. Although he clearly thinks a lot about what he’s doing, most of the time he appears to be doing hard graft, hefting stones, hiking about gathering materials, or grinding stones into pigment. Even when he’s involved in delicate, intricate work—piecing together a web of sticks or “sculpting” delicate materials like tree moss or wool fresh from the sheep—it seems more like craft than art. And yet his art is breathtakingly spectacular. The woman sitting behind me gasped for breath so often that it sounded like she was having multiple artgasms.

Goldsworthy speaks really beautifully too. He talks about his art in a very engaged way—noteworthy because he seems vaguely unengaged with the “real world” around him, although he’s clearly very committed to the Scottish village where he lives and works, for example—and he does it in ways that also fail to set off the pretension meter. His words simply serve to illuminate his work rather than to antagonize or patronize. (That may be the movie’s biggest achievement.)

The movie’s bare-bones Web site says it well:
A land-artist who uses materials from nature to make site-specific works, Goldsworthy allows the elements to have the last say in his beautiful creations, as his ingenious patterns of wood, leaves, stone and ice move and erode over time. German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer followed the artist for over a year in several outdoor locations, intimately documenting his improvisational process and capturing the serene spectacle of his works and their delicate changes. Although Goldsworthy's private and often ephemeral pieces have been documented extensively in still photographs, this remarkable movie uses the artist's own voice to guide us through his process and help us "see something you never saw before, that was always there but you were blind to it."

(Is Rivers and Tides coming to a cinema near you? Find out here.)