Director Thomas Riedelsheimer, who documented some of English artist Andy Goldsworthy’s work with naturally occurring materials in 2001’s Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, explores an even wider range of Goldsworthy’s works in Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy. Some are as ephemeral as the “rain shadows” that Goldsworthy often makes, lying down as a light rain starts and then getting up, leaving a crime scene-like shape of a body on the sidewalk—which the rain then fills in. Others are as lasting as the monumental project Sleeping Stones that Goldsworthy created by having huge slabs of stone fitted together and then having an oblong depression just wide enough to hold a human body hollowed out in the middle of the block.
As he pointed out in our interview, Goldsworthy’s art crystallizes the intense exploration of the world that artists have always done, taking as its subject something that’s usually part of the process. On the phone from his home in Scotland, Goldsworthy spoke easily and generously about Leaning Into the Wind and his work, often laughing or expressing enthusiastic wonder as he talked about the role photography plays in his art, pissing off the security guards at Fox News, and the sculptural nature of farming.
You often photograph or film your work, and those images are important, since they’re the only record of the ephemeral things you create. You seem to think of yourself as an artist who works in other media and takes pictures just to document what you’re doing, but doesn’t making those photos, which are powerful in their own right, feel like an artistic pursuit in itself?
It does, yes. But the aim isn’t to produce the photograph. The aim is to make the work. Sometimes the photograph is an important part of the making of the work. Brancusi said why talk about sculpture when you can photograph it? The photograph becomes a way of examining and understanding what you’ve done. The work is often about a particular time of day or a particular light. Photography’s a very important part of waiting for that moment.
There are demands from the image that I have to address, like the length of time and the composition. Two days ago, I did a work where I stood in a tree and the tree was casting shadow on the end of a building, so my shadow was on the building. I stand very still, so my shadow’s climbing the building as the sun’s going down. It was really beautiful, and quite amazing. And then I got down and I realized the battery had run out on the camera. [laughs] That happens a lot, because I’m so keen on making the work that I forget. My daughter sometimes, if I know I’m going to want some video, will come along and look after that side of things a bit. But the amount of times I’ve been out of focus, or the battery’s run out, or the memory stick’s run out, you know?
Since so much of what you do is about capturing the moment when a lot of different elements come together, it almost feels right that your camera is another element in the mix.
It’s all part of it. Yeah. [laughs] But I wouldn’t want my work to just exist within film or photography. It’s important that the work exists physically too. With a lot of the projects that I make, the things that people can go and see, the people are participants. They’re not spectators. There are passages to be walked, there are chambers to be stepped into, there are buildings to be stepped into, there are depressions in the stone to lay down in. So they actually address human nature, and actually need people to become active. Without people, they are lesser works.
You make a lot of things in this film that include room for a human body to fit into—but just barely, like the Sleeping Stones or the split wall people can walk inside of that’s so narrow you have to walk sideways at times. Is there something in those pieces about people finding a safe place in the world?
Or even turning that on its end, because some of the spaces that I make are uncomfortable to go into. There’s a room that I’ve put tree trunks inside that get denser as you go further into the room, and people don’t want to go in there because you don’t know how deep it is, is there anybody else in there, could you get lost in there? Nature, for me, isn’t just pastoral and therapeutic. It’s those things, but it’s deeply disturbing and challenging and threatening and brutal and raw as well as beautiful, and I hope that my work reflects that. I think as I get older, probably, it’s becoming more and more so.
Your rain shadows seem to be about the impact living things have on the world. You could see them as a metaphor for the impact we have on the world when we’re alive and the way memories of us fade after we’re gone.
Yes, definitely. Just being alive, we can’t help but affect the world. Especially in a city. The city is the memory of so many people, the seats that are sat on, the places that are walked over. So the most appropriate place to lay down and leave a shadow is the pavement, that surface that’s so written by people’s feet. There have been times when I’ve made a shadow and I’ve got up and it’s carried on raining and the shadow’s disappeared, and then it’s stopped raining and, because where my body has been is slightly dryer than the rest of the pavement, it comes back again—my shadow rises up out of the ground. That’s amazing! There’s this memory coming back up out of the ground.
It’s one of those few works that I will do over and over again, because each one is so different and so interesting, so demanding. I learn so much. Like in New York, I did a series of rain shadows on the pavement. Some of the pavement is public, but a lot of it isn’t. I found that out because I was on the private side of the pavement once in front of Fox News. [laughs] And I’ve got a video of the security guards evicting me from their pavement.
There’s an awareness of mortality and the inevitability of change in much of your work. Is that something you’re consciously trying to surface or is it just inevitably part of any work that’s about reshaping organic materials?
I think it’s inevitably part of everything. The changes that can occur over time can be so interesting. When I go out and I work with something, there’s obviously the history of the material that I’m working with, the history of the place. There’s a moment I’m actually working with it. But to really deal with the whole spectrum of time, I have to engage with the future. And not in a way where I’m wanting to be remembered by posterity, but to launch something into the future, to see what can happen. I can learn as much from the changes that occur after the making as I can during the making.
What’s it like to work with Thomas Riedelsheimer? Did he come to you about making your two films or did you come to him?
Thomas came to me two or three years before Rivers and Tides wanting to make a film. Every so often, someone would come wanting to make a film and then they’d go away and never come back, I guess never finding funding. So I didn’t really take it too seriously, but he came back with the funding and we made the film. He’s got such an intensity and a focus and an understanding of what I’m doing, it doesn’t feel like he’s a spectator. He’s really involved in it, and that’s a really interesting dynamic. It’s just a small crew, just two or three people. He’s very alert and adapts. It’s not this prescriptive thing. He understands the way I work, and I quite enjoy his company. It’s funny, because I never ever think of this film being in the cinema, or out in the greater audience. It’s just this thing we’re making. And then it reaches this point where people are asking me questions about it [laughs] and it’s like, argh, why did it have to get to that stage? It was so interesting before. Now I have to do all these other things. And there’s only so many times you can see yourself writ large on the screen. It’s just nauseating. [laughs] I love film, generally. It’s just when I’m the subject matter that I could do without it.
So why do you agree to do it? Is it because it helps get your work out there?
No, no. It’s a collaboration. There’s an exchange that occurs between us whilst making the film that helps me to see the work differently and to think about things differently. That’s all you’re thinking about while you’re creating it. It’s certainly not motivated by “Oh, I think this will be a good career opportunity.” [laughs] In fact, that’s the negative part of it. Rivers and Tides, that was such a successful film, and it’s kind of tough because it’s only a 100-minute view of my work at that time, but people take it as being what I am. Leaning Into the Wind was a way of, amongst other things, addressing some of the misconceptions about my work, the kind of romantic view that I almost float through the landscape and don’t use machinery. Because I’m an artist who’s always made big projects, and I’m happy to work with machinery, with tools. And to be in an uncomfortable position and criticize, contradict whatever position I may have taken previously. I’m not going to stay in that comfortable territory that’s defined by a film like Rivers and Tides.