It's National Poetry Month and I've been overindulging. Last night, to sober up, I dimmed the reading lamp, searched for a film to watch, and stumbled upon the documentary Rivers and Tides. Director Thomas Riedelsheimer's portrait of Andy Goldsworthy is a blissful thing.
I was familiar with Goldsworthy's public sculpture and have seen a number of his private commissions, but his more ephemeral creations -- so richly and lovingly featured in the film -- were a revelation. Goldsworthy partners with nature's found objects (stones, twigs, leaves, streams, snow, shadow, and sunlight) to co-create works of startling beauty. Part of what makes these impromptu on-site installations so remarkable is that they exist now only on film, either as the photographs that Goldsworthy himself takes or in the moving pictures of this documentary.
Traditionally, sculpture has been the art form of monuments. The very phrase "set in stone" suggests a capacity to outlive time itself. Certainly, there's a crumbling here, a lost limb there, and plenty of poems such as "Ozymandias" that remind us of the folly of seeking immortality through hard materials. But I hadn't thought of sculpture as quite so liquid a pleasure before last night.
Goldsworthy uses mineral matter to trace, hug, and caress the natural flow of the elements he sees and senses. Early in the film, we see him breaking bits of icicle with his teeth to fit neatly into looped sections, which he completes just as the sun rises high enough to illuminate the vision from all sides. We then see at the culmination of this perfect achievement that the sun, which brought these incandescent golden rings to life, is already beginning to melt them. In the apex lies the surrender. The very thing that makes the miracle possible is the thing that takes it away.
But there is no sense of loss or decay here. What shines though so brightly in Goldsworthy's own words and in the sensation that his works bring to the viewer is an effect of utter joy. There is a peaceful afterglow as we watch, in another scene, the river sweep away a swirled stack of reeds that mirrored the whirling flow of the rising tide. It's a consummation, not an act of destruction. If you'll pardon the image, it is an act of lovemaking, which though completed, lingers, never lost. The love carries on, in memory, in feeling, in impact.
And so, what might seem fleeting never really is. This lingers in my mind. Experiences, people, and places can keep on touching us for a lifetime, if we let them. Perhaps if we could find a way to hold that notion more softly in our warm hands, we'd be gentler with ourselves and with others -- and with the gorgeous world in which we live. Shall we give it a go?
Our minds are at their best this night,
And I seem to know
That everything outside us is
Mad as the mist and snow.
-- excerpt from W.B. Yeats' "Mad as the Mist and Snow"