An analysis and discussion of “Rivers and Tides” by artist Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy’s work is considered ephemeral due to the impact that time has on his work. His work is made in a specific place, and medium associated with the place. Mediums including ice, leaves, rocks, sticks or roots are usually combined in a place that is effected by tide, river, sun, wind and other natural elements. Working with ice, for example he is aware of the time of day and heat emitted from the sun that eventually melts his work. He takes into account the tide that will rise to the height of his circular stick sculpture or seed shaped rock sculpture, he arrives at his sites early in the morning and works according to the tides. It appears that this sense of anticipation of time and imminent shifts that result from the tide or sun rising motivates him. He feels as though he is taking a “risk” by working outside under impermanence and nature.

In the beginning of the film Goldsworthy is “uprooted” from his home town in Scotland for a commissioned work in Nova Scotia. He feels like a stranger in the new place, but a sense of familiarity with the rivers and tides remains. The mediums he works with are familiar in general but even the rocks are nuanced in constitution. Finding his roots through his work, his relationship to the place grows with the understanding of the new place.

A section of the film I find very interesting is when Goldsworthy becomes excited about the sun shining through both sides of his curvilinear ice sculpture illuminating it and adding a very beautiful touch to the work. The potential in his work is great and always a surprise, as it’s subject to complete exposure to natural elements that change and morph his work. Oftentimes in Goldsworthy’s work the thing that gives his pieces life also causes their death, for example water to icicles to water by way of temperature change. Goldsworthy remarks “It doesn’t feel at all like destruction” when his ephemeral art/earthworks are decomposed by nature. The difference between “destruction” and “shifting/changing/mutating” is all in a mindset. In general destruction has negative connotations while change and shifting have positive/ambiguous connotations, Goldsworthy enjoys the mutations that nature makes to his art as “nature make more of it then I ever could…” For example the circular stick sculpture was displaced by the rising tide, the water from the icicles melted, the colorful leaves set on water and land were carried away by wind and water. I think that these evolutions/changes are reflected in the human experience…phases that people go through end and change and people die and are born. Something is destroyed while something else is created.

At one point Goldsworthy is discussing his days in the “Art School Cubicle” and how much he disliked it, he felt that it was too controlled and too secure. Time has taught Goldsworthy about place, as time changes the place his work in that place changes. Being that his work is created outside there is little to no control over many of the natural elements that will impact his work. The unexpectedness involved in his work is often what makes it so impactful. He couldn’t have planned the sun behind the ice sculpture, he couldn’t have planned the current that carried the leaves down the river or the way the tides would surround his seed shaped rock sculpture. I love when artists play with chance and take risks.

Goldsworthy talks about his failures teaching him and providing him with knowledge that strengthens his understanding of medium and place. As he is building the seed shaped rock sculpture near the ocean they collapse a total of four times at which point you can tell he is very frustrated and actually hurt by his lack of understanding of his materials. I can relate to this experience in almost every aspect of my life, as I think most everyone can. I think relationships are excellent opportunities to experience failure. But, if you learn from those moments of failure and try to approach it again with the more enlightened perspective, I think it’s possible to build a successful relationship.

Pieces of Andy Goldsworthy’s work are shown in the film placed in galleries rather then their ideal place in nature. I think it’s very strange to see his work under a roof and inside of walls. With the absence of so many of the element that complete his work such as light, water, wind and animals his work feels sanitized and ostracized. Speaking of animals, sheep have had a very strong influence on Goldworthy’s work, as well as the land and history. He warns us about steriotypes and wishes people were more openminded and less imposing with their preconcieved notions about sheep. They’re not just for wool. He explains that he strives to understand the power of these creatures and by creating work about them he feels he comes closer to that understanding. Stereotypes keep us from experiencing the truth about animals, people and places because we close our eyes to new experiences, seeing nothing other then we already “know” even though they could be different. We end up missing the point and opportunites to interact with people and place on a higher level.