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A Breath of Fresh Air

As Time Goes By* With Andy Goldsworthy

by RICHARD OXMAN

*For Ilsa, Rick…and the rest of us.

"That critic who said Rivers and Tides ‘could have been half as long,’ what was he going to do with the time he saved? Go shopping at Safeway? A fast food joint?"

– Sylvie, my partner

"Time travels in divers paces with divers persons."

As You Like It, III, ii, 304.


The phony fog in Casablanca was designed to hide the cheap airport, shroud the plywood plane…not to create the romantic atmosphere we all associate with the cinematic classic’s ending. (1A)

Ending? Real fog comes and goes, transforming what it will, enveloping as it sees fit…and terminating, tweaking much to give us fits…under its enchanting cover.

Careful planning doesn’t make art happen. Meticulous consideration –while it has its place– certainly doesn’t guarantee a thing in Nature. And what endures (and what tsunamis away* without warning or sign of sympathy) is contingent upon…what can’t be labeled, verbalized or anticipated.

*Used as a verb here.

We’re always trying to clear away the Fog of Life…to get at The Truth.

Most activists believe they are dealing with truths which are objects of knowledge. But they (the truths) are, rather, holes made in established/accepted knowledge…at best "a subtraction from the particularity of what is currently known." (1B)

Andy Goldsworthy, the British environmental artist, gives one a singular perspective on such subtraction.

In five words, he is a breath of fresh air.

For activists who are spinning their wheels on…one side of their brain. Can’t take a vacation. Believe most fundamental concerns can be verbalized. Think they’ve seen it all. And so on. For them, I recommend any one of Goldsworthy’s books…or the recently released (on DVD) Rivers and Tides: Working with Time.

For those who know the glorious images and inspiration of his work, but don’t know the motion picture, I urge you to see the out-of-this-world collaboration between the Scotsman and German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer. It is truly a sensual, poetic masterpiece.

When my partner Sylvie and I first saw it over a year ago in Santa Cruz, California, we went with a woman who had just lost her husband (of many decades). It transformed her. It spoke to the depths of what troubled her…without many words. And it left us speechless.

For want of a better expression, I’d say that Andy is an Outdoor Artist. Readers can get all the general (fancy footwork) descriptions by punching his name and/or Rivers and Tides into a Search, but they’ll never capture what can be experienced with the screened offering.

"The artist’s intention is not to ‘make his mark’ on the landscape, but rather to work with it instinctively, so that a delicate screen of bamboo or massive snow rings or a circle of leaves floating in a pool create a new perception and an evergrowing understanding of the land."

The above words are from Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature (Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1990). One can easily see how indigenous people might appreciate what he is about (with his reverence for the land), but that’s really a facile take on his raison d’etre.

"I have held ice to ice seemingly for ages waiting for it to freeze, only to let go and see it drop off." With this observation from the Introduction of the above work, one can sense a soul focused beyond the pedestrian art world, operating in a realm different even from our most cherished Masters. Or perhaps you can’t.

It might be that you’ll have to see what he creates. I may be drawing upon much more than I acknowledge in writing this tribute.

I’ve walked the forests around Castres, France where he’s worked…not far from the Musée Goya. But one can’t partake of Andy’s art by simply walking into a museum. (1C)

It’s of another world, and it’s that that I want my fellow activists to experience, to restore their sense of humility, to jump outside of the box they’ve got all art locked up in (perhaps), to rejuvenate their depths, to believe…again. To not depend upon results. (1D) To not insult the Intelligence of the Universe. To see Beauty Bare.

In the late eighties, he was working on Honshu and Kyushu the same time that I was teaching ESL in Japan. I hate the cold, but….

Leaves torn between the veins…stitched together with pine needles…hung from a tree…raining…calm…cold. A slab a snow carved into…leaving a translucent layer…horse chestnut stalks pinned together with thin bamboo. This was Izumi-Mura. At Kiinagashima-cho there were the simplest of pebbles around a hole.

But the words fail here…as much as they ever failed Beckett…and us all…again and again.

When he says "The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within" he reminds me that the weather…is that external space made visible…but only in part. It harks to the above remarks about subtraction. And truths.

I drove a taxi in New York City for two-and-a-half years. I got to know the boroughs deeply, in part, ’cause I would see the same territory at different times of the day…during different seasons. AG: "I might have walked past or worked there many times. Some places I return to over and over again, going deeper — a relationship made in layers over a long time." I have something in common with Andy. We all do.

For those who want to come away from Rivers and Tides with something "tangible," they can look forward to what he has to say about the impact of sheep on history, etc. But…none of the things one can pigeon-hole so has as much to offer as the look on his face as he sits at the family’s kitchen table, eyes on The Impossible, as his kids wander in their worlds side by side. Or as much as one’s kinaesthesia connected with the unexpected collapse of…Wonder. You’ll see, you’ll feel it.

Then there are the birdseye views of what could not possibly have been created.

I walked into a brand new library in San Jose, California the other day, and I asked whether or not there was a dictionary to be had. "I’ll see," came the surprising reply. After a few steps of searching, following the librarian’s lead (like a character in Monte Python), she added: "No one’s asked that." I began to descend to Hell. We arrived at the Reference section, and as I was explaining that what I was looking for was one of those huge Webster deals that were usually found on a swivel in the center of a reading room, she pulled something of the sort down from the shelves…to satisfy her…customer. No sense of irony. No sense of significant change in process. (2)

Andy IS the dripping walls and small pools at Glenmarlin Falls on the River Scaur in Dumfriesshire…in the face of this caricature of a caricature.

He will make you scream that you will never die…because you were never born…that you’ve just forgotten who you are. And you’ll be a better activist for it.

Most moviegoers don’t know that character Rick never said "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca. Don’t ever let it be said that character Rich didn’t say "Play it again, Andy."

Let’s bless our bowels with beatific visions, and mock the midnight bell…for fun, if nothing else.

Though time and tides wait for no man or woman, there’s time enough for that.


NOTES:

(1A) Wonderful rundown of the song’s history vis-a-vis the film plus is in Will Friedwald’s Stardust Melodies, courtesy of New York’s Pantheon Books (2002). Other forms of "phony fog" include Errol Morris’ disingenuous McNamara "fog" in The Fog of War.

(1B) Alain Badiou, On Beckett (Manchester: Clinamen Press, 2003), p. 124.

(1C) One CAN imbibe his spirit at a spot that he and his art have long departed from, however.

(1D) As in results which are under the auspices of…those in the Social Sciences…and most activists (measuring their lives away).

(2) Know that you’re off on the wrong foot if you start to rationalize that one can look up whatever you need on the computer…and so on.


RICHARD OXMAN welcomes back and forth respecting Goldsworthy’s mesmerizing ephemera, and can be reached at dueleft@yahoo.com.