Monday 6 April 2020

On demand: "Leaning Into The Wind"

The German documentarist Thomas Riedelsheimer first profiled British artist Andy Goldsworthy for 2001's Rivers and Tides. The sequel Leaning Into the Wind rejoins Goldsworthy, now even greyer and altogether more lived-in, as he enters what he's almost certainly not calling his late period. The work remains the same: striking collages of nature in nature, fashioned from the materials Goldsworthy finds on the forest floor - an attempt to get art out of the studio, back to something more grounded and elemental than the smartarse conceptual play that was so in vogue as BritArt stuck two fingers up at the 20th century. These are, crucially, public works, unable to be traded for vast sums between gallerists, in part because they're also, to varying extents, temporary exhibits, a point underlined in the new film when a stiff wind blows away the coloured petals Goldsworthy has been observed trying to stick to a tree's bark. As these pieces are made from nature, so too they fall subject to the laws of nature: even this artist's longer-standing works - his installations, if you will, such as the stone chambers he built on the Morecambe coastline - are prone to being worn down, washed away over time. There is a sense Goldsworthy needs Riedelsheimer around to chronicle the fact he's doing anything at all. His signature move - the Goldsworthy equivalent of a dashed-off sketch - is to suddenly drop to the ground as a heavy shower of rain breaks and lie stock-still for several moments, so as to create a negative-space outline of the human form, visible for the briefest instant before it, too, is filled in. The abiding theme of Goldsworthy's work is the impermanence of man versus the permanence of the landscape; its continuing appeal is that this is art you could well imagine joining in with yourself, so long as you were wrapped up warm.

In person, Goldsworthy presents as a modest, likable, vaguely eccentric figure: he tells Riedelsheimer how he once took a vast elm tree in the woods near his Dumfriesshire home as his muse, and how devastated he was when he awoke one morning to find its limbs had been cleared by foresters. (Later, he appears sincerely agonised at the thought of having to cut into the bedrock to complete a stone structure: he thinks deeply, while treading lightly.) Even as he enters his sixties, he remains a great clamberer, forever hauling himself through trees, streams and hedgerows, venturing up hill and down dale; we quickly grasp this is an artist who doesn't automatically look within himself to create, but instead looks out at the world around him, the better to see what, if anything, he can improve upon, rearrange or brighten up. If the film around appears scattered in places - opening in Brazil and redirecting to the artist's Northern stronghold, before setting out for New England to oversee a more ambitious commission - it develops organically, in line with its subject's work: the camera alights on another of Goldsworthy's ad hoc construction sites, then turns its constituent elements over in its hand as one would a pebble, allowing us to spot recurring patterns and themes, and take in the often astonishing grand design. Riedelsheimer shares Goldsworthy's eye for framing and textures (one especially memorable takehome: a series of curved indentations in the ground that resemble vast Easter egg moulds), while making the physical work involved - the moving, cracking open and relaying of boulders, say - a source of quiet, constant fascination. Goldsworthy would appear to view this Earth as an endlessly rakeable Zen garden: you watch as he puts the world in renewed order and marvel, not just at the beautiful results, but at the idea anyone could make a life, a living and a name doing something this fragile and ephemeral.

Leaning Into the Wind is streaming at All4 until the end of the month.

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