publication of the International Sculpture Center
Time and Human Experience:
Andy Goldsworthy's Dialogue with Modernity
by Oliver Lowenstein
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Clay Wall, 2000.
Site-specific installation of wood, hair, and clay extracted from
the grounds of Storm King Art Center.
Executed with the help of wallers from Scotland.
An southern Englands
West Sussex, the roads, lanes, and paths are quieter and more distinctively
rural than the eastern parts of the region. Although the
famous east-west chalk escarpment of the South Downs hills straddles
the entire county, theres no competing urban center to match the
frenetic pace and gloss of Brighton. It is a beautiful, if recognizably
worked, managed, and for the most part prosperous region of England, the
land holding onto its agricultural character, elements of the past pulled
into the present.
What has been missing
from West Sussex is a sense of participation in contemporary British culture.
Travel through its small villages, and you would be forgiven for thinking
that the cultural upheavals of the last decade or so never happened. In
todays Britain the cultural industries are so entwined with regeneration,
tourism, and other regional economic projects that using art to open up
the commercial prospects of every quiet backwater is a ubiquitous policy.
So four years ago, regional tourism officers began casting around for
ways to use contemporary art to lure both attention and audiences to their
particular neck of the Sussex woods. They took their case to Stefan van
Raay, the newly appointed director of the local Pallant House Gallery,
in the areas historic cathedral city, Chichester.
Raay must have considered
who would meet the criterion of working in the natural surroundings, yet
would be contemporary and high profile enough to attract the attention
of the notoriously London-centered media. He had put on the first Scottish
show of Britains best-known land artist, Andy Goldsworthy. He also
knew that for the last decade Goldsworthy had been looking for the right
place to site a singular art project, a path made out of chalk created
specially for walking on during the night hours, when the material would
reflect the lucent dark light of the moon.
With the possibility
of realizing a long-cherished project appealing to Goldsworthy, various
other strands of a major arts program began gaining momentum, and the
idea of a series of chalk stones placed along a country path took shape
as a parallel piece to the moonlit path. Last year, on the eve of midsummer,
after any number of difficulties - including building permit problems
and uncertainty about a chunk of funding - Goldsworthys
work and a related ensemble of installations and exhibitions finally opened.
As the last of the
chalk boulders were being hewn into shape, Goldsworthy repeatedly referred
in interviews and press releases to how he has long been drawn to this
soft, porous, and at times brilliantly white sedimentary material.
The first time he
experienced natural chalk, at the Goodwood Sculpture Park many years ago,
it brought intense surprise. I found, he said during a meeting
while working on the chalk boulders, the earth was white, and wet,
which was like finding the sky in the ground. It was a beautiful contradiction
of everything I held to be true about the earth.
two pieces use the chalk in completely different ways. The trail includes
14 chalk boulders, some up to 14 metric tons in weight, marking a path
within the South Downs park land running from Cocking to opposite West
Dean College, the respected Arts and Crafts center at the edge of the
small village of Singleton. The meandering Moonlit Path consists
of crushed chalk, set beneath towering oak woodland. It is a dozen or
so miles away on the edge of the grounds of Petworth House.
Goldsworthy has spoken
of the moonlit walk as an idea of doing something for the night,
the idea of a line which would lead you into a place you wouldnt
normally go. He has written of how the sense of place changes from
day to night. Until the Petworth estates invitation, the idea always
became snagged in legal red tape: the notion of people wandering in the
woods at night was a bit too wild for other possible sites. At Petworth,
the work has remained open for a whole year, with organized walks held
during, as well as immediately before and after, each months full
moon. Goldsworthy had already made other pieces for the night, but Moonlit
Path directly engages with the landscape as a path, an aspect
of the landscape drawn by the activities of people.
Walking the other
trail in daylight, the contrast between the crushed chalk chippings and
the vast boulders is evident. In the diary he kept during the project,
Goldsworthy remarks on the brightness of the powder compared to the original
lumpy material, a phenomenon that surprised him. He also notes how working
with chalk is closely interconnected with the contingencies of weather.
A very wet early summer meant that completing the boulders turned out
to be a more complicated process than anticipated: the boulders needed
to dry undercover in order to draw their whiteness out before they could
be placed along the trail. Goldsworthy hoped that people would come upon
the boulders as an alien out-of-placeness, unconnected to the earthbound
chalk invisible underfoot, hence his conviction that they needed to begin
white. Over the next two or three years they will gradually fade and color,
from white to the place. How long the boulders will remain
in the elements appears undecided.
Cut out of the ground
at a local chalk quarry, the sheer size of the stones influenced their
eventual siting along the trail. In his diary, Goldsworthy writes how
the stones reminded him of previous works. Although clearly stone, the
chalk boulders offered the sense of working with a leaf. Once completed,
their rounded quality was powerfully reminiscent of the sandstone that
Goldsworthy had smoothed out of soil in Santa Fe. The process of completing
what nature carries out in its own time - the elemental rounding and
smoothing of the stones surfaces - dramaticizes how strange the
immediate world around us can appear when it is framed in slightly different
contexts. This transformation is another part of Goldsworthys approach,
which works within, rather than across, the grains of nature.
Some way along the
path I come across the boulders, set at seemingly random but, in fact,
carefully chosen points. Though large, they appear restrained as human
interventions in the land: one boulder emerging out of a clump of nettles,
another semi-hidden in the scrub beside the track. Their spheroid heaviness,
the chalk still bright in the high-summer sun, reminds one of the archetypal,
primal nature of Goldsworthys forms, whether spirals, circles, lozenges,
or spheres. The stones appear as primary artifacts of the world, half-hewn,
half-elemental, though also bound by deep time, having lain undisturbed
underground for literally thousands and thousands of years. As Lucy Lippard
states in Overlay, stone suggests immortality merely because it
has survived. For Goldsworthy, an artist recognized for working
with the fast-changing transience of nature, these stones have a much
more slow-motion ephemerality, making a conceptual link to his London
installation, Midsummer Snowballs, which appeared in the Barbican
district on the same midsummer evenings exactly two years earlier.
East Coast Cairn/Made Between High Tides/No Collapses/Calm/New Rochelle,
New York/November 2001, 2001. Stone. Set of 13 unique Cibachrome prints.
Galerie Lelong and Haines Gallery
Path and the chalk boulders are his first large-scale series of interlinked
exhibitions in Britain since the Barbican exhibition, Time.
It isnt chance, of course, that these works were timed to open exactly
two years after that show. It is also hardly coincidental that the form
and color of the 14 boulders are related to Goldsworthys snowballs,
which appeared in the streets around the Barbican. There, Goldsworthy
prepared 12 snowballs from snow frozen in Scotland. Each was filled with
materials local to his Dumfriesshire home - berries, grain, straw - transported
south, and left to melt in the course of the next few days to the bemusement
of commuters and local residents.
was only part of a showcase of Goldsworthys work, which, alongside
the launch of his book Time, featured a parallel exhibition and series
of events at the London Barbican Arts complex. These included the performance
of Le danse du temps, the second of his collaborations with the
French dance company Ballet Atlantique, to a score by the Vietnamese composer
Ton-That Tiet. The dance also integrated a real-time film of a Goldsworthy-crafted
clay wall cracking, projected onto the stages backdrop, while a
real clay wall curved around the gallery space, its cracks fissuring in
every direction, towering over Rock Pool, an installation in which
melted stones splayed across the floor. These were supported by further
new media experiments, including video works of the stones melting inside
Goldsworthys kiln and a live Web cast of the snowballs in their
street settings. The different elements revealed a new dimension to Goldsworthys
work, exploring, and even embracing, new media. The vivid ochre stones
that Goldsworthy had melted into new, wholly unrecognizable wodges of
transformed matter looked as if they had stickily oozed and bubbled onto
the floorspace. The wall, too, was dramatic and overpowering in its scale.
Square & Moorgate/Early Afternoon/21 June 2000, 2000.
View of one of the Midsummer Snowballs installed in London.
Goldsworthy has suggested
that the snowballs, the melted stones, and the clay wall, as with other
pieces, are powerful, almost primal images of the nature of how
things are, and of the built environment in which they are contained.
This is at odds with the usual perception of Goldsworthy at the heart
of a narrow, purist constituency in environmental art, which only uses
natural materials in natural photogenic situs, a position he is at pains
to distance himself from. In the forward to Time, he points to
how he uses modern technology, contending that both his life and work
are completely 21st century. He would not, he says, pretend to get to
America by swimming. This stance is also at odds with the claim made by
certain critics that Goldsworthy is more craftsperson than artist - one
reason for his exclusion from (and Richard Longs inclusion in) Londons
Tate Modern. Certainly, Times ensemble of pieces emphasized
a more complex relationship to modernity than is usually admitted in Goldsworthys
case. The strangely alien ambiance of the melted stone evoked igneous
metamorphosis: the resulting lumps, folds, and warps - almost postmodern
signifiers of the non-platonic - at odds with the ideal harmonious world
imputed to Goldsworthys work. The use of film, video, and the Internet,
all in the Ur-urban site of Londons City district, also
suggests a broader context for his work than has generally been acknowledged.
The city setting and the melted stone resonated richly in an area that
suffered bombing and fire in the London blitz of World War II. Goldsworthy
researched stories of buildings in the immediate area literally
melting, so that, for him, the melted stones draw on longer histories
and fit a conceptual, carefully thought-out backdrop, pushing the envelope
of connections for a particular - manmade - place.
War and peace bring
different kinds of change to the humdrum lives of cities, which Goldsworthy
echoes by engaging with the subtleties of slower-motion transience. His
broader point is to challenge the sense of the citys permanence,
its aura of strength, stability, and longevity, to reveal the fragility
of this permanence and to frame it within the temporal fact that change
is all - all the more so in the ever-changing city. For Goldsworthy, the
clay wall plays with the ambiguities of permanence. It is both a meditation
on the land and the material that London is built upon, the clay basin
of the river Thames.
Top: Sheeps wool/Charterhouse Square/
Mornings/21, 22 June 2000, 2000.
Bottom: Ash keys/Barbican Centre, Silk Street/
Morning to Afternoon/ 21 June 2000, 2000.
of Midsummer Snowballs.
In a similar vein,
the snowballs werent about snow as such, but about the processes
of time and change. These pieces marked the closest Goldsworthy could
get to the citys everyday life, a dialogue of flows between the
snowballs and the citys inhabitants, particularly the daily tidal
flow of commuters, which he describes as a river of people.
The dialogue between the two flows is similar in spirit to the dialogue
he seeks when placing works in relation to a real river, a point he mentions
in Time. Seeking out the heart of the city may not be that unusual a preoccupation
for an artist, but framing that preoccupation within a wholly ecological
context, relating it directly to questions about a citys ecological
equilibrium, is a different territory altogether, alien to the current
mainstream of British artists.
If the ballet performance,
videos, and Web cast added a new multi-media dimension to Goldsworthys
work, they are the exception proving the rule of land art practitioners
with whom he is often connected. Perhaps he is more in tune with the zeitgeist
than many think, moving closer to the ongoing and interrelated art movements
that came of age when he was a student, from process and conceptual art
to performance and multi-media work itself. Le danse du tempswith
its slowly moving film backdrop, spartan stage elements, and the dance
itselfis Goldsworthys most fully realized attempt to integrate
multi-media, technology, and elements of the established land art vocabulary
This diverse and
relentless portfolio of work suggests a man wanting to step beyond the
land art box. While the west Sussex projects include a variety of ingredients
straight out of Goldsworthys recognizable oeuvre, the Time
works suggest that he is perhaps the most willing of the established British
nature artists to take on the changing landscape of the contemporary world,
from the place of new media and performance in land art to the life cycles
of cities. For a new generation of young artists, such as Brightons
Red Earth, performance is allied to a relation to the land. Goldsworthy,
10 years younger than many of his land art peers, forms a bridge between
the generations, using a range of contemporary settings for uncovering
the ephemera of the moment, as much as the deep past of geomorphology.
In so doing, Goldsworthys art practice finds itself a conduit between
lived human experience and natures forms of time.
Lowenstein runs the green culture, arts, and architecture journal, Fourth
Door Review www.fourthdoor.co.uk.
His in-depth interview with Goldsworthy appears in the new edition, available
from 68 Gilboa Road, Westmoreland, NH 034674705, USA
Walks on Moonlit
Path are arranged around every full moon, through summer 2003. Contact
or write to Footprints of Sussex, Pear Tree Cottage, Jarvis Lane,
Steyning, West Sussex, BN44 3GL, U.K.
The Chalk Stones
trail runs between Cocking and Singleton, West Sussex. There is bus service
seven days a week from Chichester train station. Also see South Downs
Web site, www.vic.org.uk.