I scowled impatiently as Andy Goldsworthy slowly, painfully moved through the brittle tree tops. His determination was impressive, his connection to nature intriguing and the crackling of bark satisfying — but I still hadn’t clicked. Where was the art in this pondering exploration of woodland compositions?
It might seem like an odd film choice for a Friday night. Surrounded by apparent OAPs in the Barbican Cinema, I did wonder myself if I’d made a mistake. But this beautifully shot documentary, delving into the mind of award winning sculptor Andy Goldsworthy was the perfect antidote to a long week of a thoroughly urban existential crisis. His commitment to and perception of the natural world pulls you in gently, until you too are seeing the world through a lens that seems to pause time, soften the edges and refocus. Colours and shapes sharpen. Your sense of movement heightens. Moments are grasped and let go, flitting away like his yellow Elm leaves on a breeze.
This serenity, that comes with calm observation, follows him even to the cities. Waiting for the rain, he sprawls out on the pavement as soon as those first drops hit the ground, while cars pass on by. It’s a strange sight, and to city folk he seems like a strange man. But once he peels himself away to reveal a pale inverted silhouette you can’t help but smile. A fleeting work of art, born of nature and wiped away — as it perhaps should be. It was the contrasting yellow elm leaves, trailing up grey city steps that struck me visually — orderly and yet beautifully delicate, but not straight. It was when he decided to walk directly through the bushes beside a footpath, the movement of leaves betraying the unusual activity, and emerging before continuing along the footpath, that I laughed. His expression gave no trace of the comic contrast to his fellow pedestrians — but it was both ridiculous and delicious.
Lessons learned from Andy Goldsworthy
Value moments but don’t cling to them, change is inevitable and loss inescapable. On the one hand Andy reveals that he wept when one of his favourite natural woodland compositions was de-limbed, after presuming it would remain intact long after he had passed. His sense of connection is that acute. On the other, he plays with imprints that are washed away by the rain, providing a refreshing playfulness that fully accepts the passing of time.
Art doesn’t need to be owned. As Andy works with natural materials, that evolve over time and require their natural setting, there is no question of ownership, and in some way this seems to take an element of ego away from the process. Taking earthy materials and giving it back to the landscape — could there be a more harmonious approach to art? No wonder he oozes serenity.
Life isn’t linear, so take alternative routes and embrace the journey. From tree tops to bushes and curving lines up city steps, Andy provides a new path. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful one — if simply watching it stirs an excitement in you, imagine what it feels like to truly carve your own way? Straight lines are over-rated, anyway.
Know your limits — you don’t need to overstep the mark. Andy woke up early and dragged the film crew to the mountains with his saw in tow, in order to carve into the bedrock. But looking out over the skyline he admits, it feels wrong to cut into the stone when it’s still intact. Indeed, the notion seemed to counter his connection to nature. He turned back and I was relieved for him.
Embrace the elements. That is all. Whether it’s soaking in the rain or leaning into the wind, Andy’s approach is exhilarating. The final shot is mesmerising, as he flails about in the wind before precariously leaning away from the mountain top, providing the right weight and angle to reach an equilibrium and balance out the wind. I wouldn’t try it at home, but it did make me want to hurl myself into the elements. TBC…
Needless to say, I overcame my impatience and left the Barbican in awe of Andy’s sensitivity to and connection with nature. I took the tube home still awash with peaceful contemplation. Is it even possible to have an existential crisis when you’re so at one with nature? Leaning into the wind provides an almost meditative experience and left me wondering how I can create my own space in London and breath some natural life into my daily existence — surely then, harmony will follow?