Not even Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso, a great 1956 close-up of the Cubist at work, can touch Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Rivers and Tides for revealing the artistic process. Spectacularly photographed, the film shows British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy twisting and bending elements of nature into stunning site-specific creations that are so singular that it would appear no one else on the planet would have thought of them if Goldsworthy hadn’t urged them into existence.
Goldsworthy uses the earth as a medium, working with twigs, icicles, stones, moss and flowers to create gorgeous sculptures, most of which are swept away by wind or water soon after he photographs them. The film follows him as he decamps from his Scottish home to work on a commission in Nova Scotia. Soft-spoken and extremely self-aware, Goldsworthy eagerly battles the elements–trying to find harmony with them, not conquer them–which can be a challenging task. He repeatedly attempts to build a cairn on the beach as the tide approaches, but his frustration mounts as the structure collapses four times. But Goldsworthy ultimately grows philosophical about his lack of success on this particular day, understanding that the threat of failure nourishes his art. “Total control can be the death of work,” he asserts.
On some level, Goldsworthy realizes that total control–of nature or himself–in an impossibility. He acknowledges going through withdrawal symptoms if his bare hands aren’t consistently molding the earth. He seems puzzled, almost spooked by his obsessive need to fathom the environment’s possibilities and mysteries, understanding that nature itself may be more knowable than human nature.
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