Stone Me, Would You Beleaf It?

Leaning Into the Wind (Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2018)

Andy Goldsworthy is a sculptor who works with — and in — nature. More to the point, he worked as a farm labourer in his teens.

He was in one of the Folkestone Triennials, on the Old High Street, smearing mud on the interior of a shop window and allowing it to crack and dry out. There was also a film of one of his rain shadows — lying on a street as it starts to rain, leaving a ghostly impression of his body. And he has works at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park — a sheepfold with dead tree — and Jupiter Artland — including lumps of coal in trees, Stone Coppice.

We see him almost absorbed into landscapes — South American forests, Cumbrian and French hills, Scottish woodland, climbing across blackthorn coppices, through bushes, between roots. We see him maneuvre trees into mud-lined buildings, draw lines with leaves on steps in Edinburgh, decorating a tree with narrow branches pinned in by pine needles. Sometimes he is working alone, especially with a fallen elm tree, sometimes with his apparently more-talented daughter Holly, sometimes with a team of labourers, cutting rock into open sarcophagi. It is site-specific artwork, even if he has half a dozen schticks.

He is most clearly moved when talking about the fallen elm — someone has removed some of the branches in his absence — and when he is about to cut into bedrock.

(Spoiler: he doesn’t. Quarrying is one thing, but disturbing the geology is another.)

And somewhere in here is his former wife, who died after their divorce.

It’s hard to grasp how startling his work is on a large screen, let alone a tablet, but the camerawork and the drone shots do their best. You get a sense of his empathy and shared knowledge with a Spanish-speaking old woman, who shows him a clay, dung and straw floor, and that he is clearly learning from her — not quite appropriating. Whilst you hear from her, his daughter, some of his assistants (one of whom he compares scars with, in a presumable unintended homage to Jaws), there are no vox pops, nor curators, nor art histories. We don’t know who commissions the works. We do hear Fred Frith’s quasi-indigenous soundtrack, which is frankly irritating pastiche rather than enriching.

And the wind and the lean? We see that as his penultimate work — you might not spot the one in the closing credits — where it is him and the wind. Whilst Antony Gormley’s works are sculptures based on his body, they are monumental and solid, whether iron figures in the sea or giant above the road to Gateshead; here Goldsworthy’s body is more fragile, more self-effacing..

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