To watch Goldsworthy on screen you must be patient, and enter his mindset of looking deeply at the earth, its stones, fallen trees, rivers. The colors of the leaves and flowers are his palette, his media. He carefully harvests them, and then puts them into his stunning compositions that are a blend of homage and human response to a genius he belongs with.
Watching him penetrate the thorn trees (I do not know the real name for this tree)I wondered and laughed, and then simply marveled at the intention of a man who needs to enter nature, not just to walk along side, but to penetrate it. He speaks of the two ways of looking at art: you can walk along the hedge, or you can walk through the hedge. It is clear which path he takes.
Splitting rocks to create sleeping spaces, reminiscent of tombs, or the ancient stones where he went to college, he decides he cannot go into the bedrock. You can feel his need to honor the sacred earth. Yet, the movie made me wonder and left me frustrated at the lack of generosity that the filmmaker and perhaps the artist himself declines to share information about the process with which he creates his stunning compositions. For instance, how did he create the fault line in the long entryway to the museum in San Francisco, the fault line so reminiscent of the earthquake that brought down a major bridge twenty years ago. Who does he need permission from to use the great fields in Scotland he haunts year after year? How did he split the rocks of the stone fence and leave a perfectly formed crevice just wide enough for him to walk through?
He speaks lovingly of the great elm felled by disease, a storm, and then even worse, harvested of its wood by woodcutters, as if a person had died. He even reveals the griefs he has experienced through the separation of his wife, divorce, and death of her who brought him four children, including the lovely Holly, his adult daughter, who now assists him in his compositions.
Because of the ephemeral nature of much of his work, designed to literally blow away in the wind, I am glad to be able to look at the exquisitely produced photographic records of it, and at this film, directed again by Thomas Reidelsheimer (who directed and photographed Rivers and Tides, a 2001 film about the artist), who with graceful distance and clear reverence for the man he documents left me hungry to know a bit more. What brought him to Brazil? How did he end up in Gabon? Who pays for his hired labor?
Still there are indelible images seared in my brain, including the one of Goldsworthy penetrating the thorn trees, and of course, of him lodged in the tree along the side of the road, a haunting human presence inside a work of genius, a tree, which demonstrates how we are part of that spectrum that includes all nature.