The duality of Andy Goldsworthy is the film Rivers and Tides is an inspirational example of how the world of a filmmaker can merge seamlessly with the world of an artist to jointly produce a new work altogether. The artist, working intimately with German director/cinematographer/editor Thomas Riedelsheimer, is able to create beautiful, enduring images of nature as art. It is Goldsworthy’s unique, uncompromising visions of the natural world (along with his attempts at explaining his artistic and thought processes) that give the film life. Is Rivers and Tides a film about art or a film about an artist? Is it simply just art?
Juxtaposing the ordinariness of this Scotsman’s home life (in the kitchen with his many children and wife eating bacon or simply milling about his small, picturesque village) with his life in the world of contemporary art, in addition to showcasing him in a way a feature film might present a leading man, the filmmaker smartly creates an art world anti-hero that is easy to root for. He’s not at all like the avant garde Matthew Barney (one of his contemporaries in the world of modern art), you’re not going to be treated to a pretentious three hour art installation/film about whaling, and that’s a good thing. What Goldsworthy brings to the table with his stunningly original eco-friendly artwork is the ability to make high art relatable for those who don’t usually go for it. His rugged personal charisma is as much a tool used for making art here as rocks or wood or leaves.
While the artist tries to offer up simple explanations for why he works (sometimes getting tongue-tied and then wisely stopping; which humanizes him even more), the more interesting thing to watch in Rivers and Tides is the actual construction of his pieces; each step leading up to the completion is a complex, painstaking task in itself. Goldsworthy shows that working with water, potentially hazardous plant material and wood may be incredibly time consuming, but for him, it is a rewarding way to connect with the planet, although the glory can be short-lived. He says that the pieces are all formed to look “effortless”, as though they were assembled by Mother Nature herself.
In Nova Scotia, Goldsworthy meticulously pieces together a sculptural corona of icicles that reflects the sun’s natural light. It then melts when the rays brutally shift towards it. He then constructs a white “whirlpool”-shaped hut made of wood that floats away with the tide. The installation represents, for the artist, movement and “seeing something you’ve never seen before, that you were blind to.” The challenge that comes with working with such non-traditional art materials can be perplexing with the ice cracking and breaking unexpectedly, yet Goldsworthy soldiers on.
He creates this fleeting imagery out of a noble love of the land and part of the beauty of watching them be constructed is watching them get quietly destroyed. The “whirlpool” is a striking image as it swirls at the convergence of the sea and a river, losing pieces with each turn. His gentle, poetic love of nature, combined with a craggy, Scottish sense of the outdoors make him so relatable that when one of his pieces made of stones falls apart, it’s easy to feel very bad for him, but just as easy to laugh along with him. It’s this particular sense that Goldsworthy lacks any real self-seriousness that makes a film about an experimental artist’s relevance and process more palatable.
Spectacular displays of natural light and other environmental phenomena captured by the filmmaker’s with laser precision (the images of a rainbow in the sky, the moon at night; every work possessed of a violent, natural color) are equally important when framing Goldsworthy’s installations. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of Goldsworthy’s life and mystique and forget that this is also just as much a fantastic achievement for Riedelsheimer. Are we buying into Goldsworthy’s charm, his actual art, or his lifestyle? Luckily Rivers and Tides doesn’t force it’s viewer to make a rash choice, it offers complete package with multiple perspectives on the world of art, each living independently, yet harmoniously and comfortably next to one other.