Leaning into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy: Dust in the Wind, by David Bax
In a quiet, early moment in Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Leaning into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, artist Goldsworthy stands in a small shack with a dirt floor and a hole in the roof that allows a single, brilliant cylinder of sunlight to cut a path through the gloom. Then he starts kicking up the dirt so the sunbeam becomes a glowing tube of dancing specks for a few moments until everything settles. This beautiful display that lasts so briefly encapsulates the defining quality of most of Goldsworthy’s art. It’s breathtaking, natural, fragile and ephemeral.
Leaning into the Wind is Riedelsheimer’s follow-up, after a gap of sixteen years, to Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, his initial portrait of the artist. Goldsworthy creates sculptures and other such works out of natural material (twigs, leaves, rocks, etc.), most of it specifically designed to be washed or blown away in short order. There are exceptions, more permanent work like the bisected stone wall we see him building in which each stone has been precisely cut in half and separated from itself by about two feet, turning the wall into a narrow trench with perfectly flat sides. But generally, Goldsworthy depends on time and nature performing the last brushstrokes on his work, usually by destroying it or, if not, at least fundamentally changing it. In one construction, he drags gigantic forked tree trunks into a room and then covers everything—from the trees to the floors to the walls and ceilings—in flat, brown clay, turning branches into fingers and surfaces into skin. Then Riedelsheimer sets his camera to time lapse and, as the clay dries, the entire piece turns into a stunning latticework of cracks.
Following this sequence, we are taken to Brazil for one of Leaning into the Wind’s only fascinating bits that doesn’t include Goldsworthy’s creations. Here we find the artist interviewing rural locals who have a similarly claylike (actually dung) floor in their small abode, to which they must regularly apply new layers. If art is truth then it’s hard to imagine a more direct reflection in reality of Goldsworthy’s work than in this floor that is beautiful but ever-dissipating, requiring work (by the most elemental definition of the word) to be maintained.
Riedelsheimer works as his own cinematographer in addition to sometimes serving in that role for other documentarians. His work here is stunning, often using light and shadow to literally highlight the contrast in Goldsworthy’s pieces between the organic material and the clearly manmade shapes and angles it takes. It’s enough to make you wonder if the director sees something of himself in his subject. It’s not just that cinema is also an art form that includes time as an ingredient. It’s also that photography is often about taking what’s already in front of you and finding a new way of looking at it, which is pretty much what Goldsworthy does.
Riedelsheimer presents Goldsworthy’s work so gorgeously, in fact, that it starts to backfire on him in the moments where Goldsworthy talks about his life or his art. It’s interesting, of course, to know that his daughter, so young in Rivers and Tides, has become his assistant. But mostly it feels like we’re biding time until we can get back to a fallen log painted with yellow leaves or Goldsworthy climbing his way through a roadside hedgerow.
In one of the more interesting chats, though, Goldsworthy mentions his reluctance to actually cut into the ground to build a piece, preferring to rely on things that have already been tossed up or toppled by nature. It put me in mind of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates, the art installation in Central Park, a space that detractors would remind you was already a work of art by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, not some blank canvas. It raises questions about Goldsworthy imposing his will on nature. Is he defacing the work of, oh, let’s call it God? Perhaps but, really, isn’t that the history of mankind? Maybe that’s the real truth of his art.