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RIVERS AND TIDES

SECONDING NATURE

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In Thomas Riedelsheimer's Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time, we see something that rarely appears in other arts documentaries: We see art. We don't hear talking heads wax on about it, nor do we hear an artist speak in the abstract about it. Rather, we witness the act of improvisational art as it unfolds, by turns lyrical and also painstakingly piecemeal. But that's how Goldsworthy -- a British land artist who uses wood, stone, leaves and ice to make art -- works: Though his pieces are often described as site-specific installations, his pieces are probably more performative than sculptural, more gestural than deliberate.

Yet Goldsworthy's final products are hardly accidents. He banks a large dome of soft, sun-bleached driftwood at the rocky edge of a river so that it's not simply a part of the environment from which the sculpture was created -- it's also at the environment's mercy. The wood lies cross-stitched, suggesting the circular motion of a whirlpool in the river, and, as the tide comes in, the mound slowly, gently, breaks apart as if it were dissolving into the water.

"When I make a work, it's often to the edge of its collapse," Goldsworthy says. "And there's something very beautiful in that balance."

He says this sitting beneath a fragile web of twigs that he's hung from a tree branch. As the wind picks up, the piece sways precariously, demonstrating Goldsworthy's point. And less than three seconds after he speaks, the sculpture tumbles down. He sighs.

That tension might be key to Goldsworthy's art, but it's not exactly viewer-accessible: His work, which he imbeds in small pockets of the natural landscape around the world, exists permanently only in the form of coffee-table books and other still photographs. So Riedelsheimer's quiet, patient 35 mm wide-screen time capsule acts like an animated gallery in which he makes us privy to Goldsworthy's endearing process, and also gives us the time and space to see the works as they are meant to be seen -- alongside the nature that inspired it. Still photographs might showcase the finished product and give a glimpse of the artist's concept, but they can't capture an essential: his thinking, which Riedelsheimer lays bare here.

In fact, Goldsworthy, for the most part, is the only one who speaks at all, and though he occasionally drifts into touchy-feely rhetoric about nature -- "I think the land speaks to me ... it speaks to us all" -- he's usually pretty concrete in talking about his art. Riedelsheimer doesn't spend time putting Goldsworthy within a particular aesthetic context, nor does he over-glorify his work. Rather, he shows the trial-and-error inherent in art-making, and the path Goldsworthy's mind takes as he meanders by the river -- and through the woods. * * *

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