Rivers & Tides
directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer
(Roxie, 2001)

Every schoolchild knows water's necessary for life, but in environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy's hands, it becomes art, too.

That's how it should be, Goldsworthy says: To him, art is just as much of a necessary life process as breathing.

Goldsworthy's fascination with water, with nature, with creating ephemeral art with objects he finds in nature is the focus of Rivers & Tides, a 2001 documentary that follows the artist into the field, watching the painstaking, and sometimes painful, work.

The English sculptor has created most of his pieces in the open air, in fields, at the edges of the sea, within mountain streams and waterfalls. Usually using what he finds at the site -- stones, snow and ice, twigs and logs, plants -- he uses the building blocks of nature and forms them into something new: a beehive dome of flat, shale-like rock, a whirlpool of driftwood sitting at the edge of a salmon hole, a chain-link of icicles trailing its way around rock and tree, a dense mat of humble dandelions illuminating a river pool.

It's sometimes backbreaking, exacting work, and Rivers & Tides shows that it's not always a smooth process. "All that effort," Goldsworthy says, "is, ultimately, going into making something that's effortless."

Rivers & Tides examines the way Goldsworthy's art, and the artist, are inseparable. The warmth of his hands, wet with water, softens the ice just enough to enable him to link pieces together. His teeth chip off tiny pieces of his building blocks, enabling them to fit seamlessly.

It's all compelling and hypnotic at the same time, accompanied by a spare soundtrack by Fred Frith. Images of Goldsworthy's pieces as they're assailed by the sea or seasons -- or immense, shaggy cattle -- speak to the artist's obsession with time: where we stand in it, how we make our mark, how something can be simultaneously timeless and temporary.

Each piece, each attempt, says Goldsworthy, are like the small piles of stone used to mark trails. "They are like markers to my journeys."

Filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer has created a tribute to an artist whose love of the earth and love of the beauty it already holds inform everything he creates. Lovers both of art and nature should take notice.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 11 December 2004

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