Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 4, 2009

Rivers and Tides

I love a good documentary film. I have enjoyed the format since I was young, when watching a movie – even if it was about reptiles or Degas – seemed like more fun than beating my math textbook into submission. I’ve always picked up the non-fiction books with the most photographs or illustrations, so the documentary film is a natural extension of that.

Rivers and TidesThomas Riedelsheimer, a German director and cinematographer, made a fabulous documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, called Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time. I watched it last week – fell asleep watching it in the evening after work, and then watched lovely chunks of it throughout the next couple of days. This seemed entirely appropriate.

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist who’s art cannot really be displayed in your home or sold or put in a museum. That is because he makes beautiful things out of twigs, beach pebbles, reeds, icicles, and anything else he happens to find. His works of art often disintegrate within the day, if not sooner. He photographs the finished piece, and then leaves it to blow away or tumble over or drift away down the stream or out into the ocean.

While he creates with a great deal of intent and purpose, I identified most with the playfulness of his work. I remember spending hours on the beach near my home in Kennebunk, rearranging the stones and building walls or nests. The forts in the woods that I wove out sticks and vines are not so far removed from some of the pieces Goldsworthy has built.

The fleeting nature of Goldsworthy’s art was the perfect subject for a documentary, and Thomas Riedelsheimer’s film captured both the man, the underlying thought process, and the works in an intimate way. The camera followed Goldsworthy, peeking over his shoulder, listening in on his quiet thoughts, for the most part unintrusive.

At other times though, it was almost as if the two men were working as a team. There were moments in the film where what Goldsworthy started seemed to be completed by the Riedelsheimer’s camera. A long ribbon of strung together leaves floats down the stream, let loose from Goldsworthy’s hand but followed by the camera as it dances in the water like a Chinese dragon.

One of my favorite parts was when Goldsworthy was building a man-sized standing “egg” made out of stacked slate, on a beach while the tide was out. Four times, as he reached the wide point and began to build it back inwards, it collapsed, imploding with a crunch. I couldn’t hold back a giggle, even though I could relate to the frustration. Goldsworthy took a deep breath and began again each time, finally completing the egg, only to have it be completely covered in ocean water not too much later. However, when the tide went out the egg was still standing.

It was wonderful to see an artist at work and at play, turning the childhood exploration of shape and form into glowing, almost magical creations, made from nothing beyond what was found beside the stream. Between the artist and the filmmaker, the film captured a sense of exquisite simplicity, and gave me a new appreciation for the moments of aching beauty that surround us constantly, if only we have the eyes to look.

Also, while Goldsworthy’s creations build upon and compliment the natural forms, it seems that to the mind behind the camera, a fluffy seed pod floating on a glassy pool, or snow being blown into ghostly dancers by the wind is equally beautiful.

Between the two of them, I am more eager than ever to play outside, and my fingers have started to itch with a desire to play with beach stones again.


  1. Goldsworthy’s works are intended for the camera.
    Have you looked at any of his books?
    The interplay between coming upon patterns in nature that speak to you and the camera could be assigned a special word.
    Then there could be one for weaving vines and arranging beach stone, just for transient beauty.
    Art for art’s sake.

    How perfect that you’ve found Gldswothy.

  2. I definitely want to check out some of his books – I’ll inter-library loan some. I love looking at his work. 🙂

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