An Ode To Andy Goldsworthy

Final Project for Environment And Culture 205A

Professor Jane Costlow

April 6th, 2012


            Throughout the duration of the semester, I was touched by a various amount of texts and films, but nothing stuck me so much as Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers and Tides.  I was impressed by the fleeting, temporary quality of his work. When he made something that consisted of materials from nature, the general passage of time and the elements of the environment would eventually destroy his work of art.  When I was watching the film, Goldsworthy said something that I didn’t quite understand—he said that as he worked with the material of a certain place, it helped him to understand his place, and then helped him to “make sense” of the changes that happened to him as he grew older.   On a basic level, I comprehended that sure; if he worked with the sand on a beach, he would familiarize himself with his surroundings, interact more with his environment than he would have otherwise. But what did he mean by learning more about himself? How does making a sculpture out of ice or sand or leaves help teach you about yourself and thus give you a greater understanding of your own place?  I was stumped by this question, so I decided that I would try to answer it by trying to mimic Goldsworthy’s style of art.

             My first project was the dandelion swirl, and it was during the creation of this first project that I felt the most uncomfortable.  While collecting flowers, I made the dandelion swirl on a patch of purple flowers on a green patch of grass just off of Alumni Walk.  As I sat and set flowers down, many people would walk by and regard me quizzically, look at me as if I were doing something very strange.  I was very self-conscious while I formed my dandelion swirl.  This first project was not so difficult, just methodical and time-consuming, but it did not feel meaningful.  However, I found that I could not really enjoy making it because I felt so self-conscious, and also conscious of the other people around me so that I could not focus as much on the meaning of what I was doing, and if there even was a meaning. While continuing to make the swirl, I realized that Goldsworthy probably did not feel self-conscious when he made his works of art, but he also did not make them in very public areas.  After realizing this, I felt slightly disheartened, because my intention to embody Goldsworthy in my work was failing.  I was also saddened by the fact that the swirl probably would not last until the next day.  As a result, I did not gain much ground on trying to explore his statement.  It was not until my third project, the pinecone stack that I began to understand what Goldsworthy was talking about.  As I worked, walking back and forth between collecting pinecones and setting them in the design, a sense of calm began to set over me.  I began to enjoy being outside, and began to notice the difference in pinecones I picked; that some were more open and crisp, less pliable, whereas others, somewhat weathered were closed up and bendy.  The passage of time was less noticeable, and instead of thinking ahead to tasks that I had to accomplish later on that day, I was able to focus in on the task at hand, and lay pinecones in a formation that represented to me, a passage of time and re-creation, because the pinecones began at the tree that produced them.  Not all pleasure was sourced to the final product. By sitting and creating the stack of pinecones, I stopped focusing on the future and the past, and was able to tune in on the present.  I became acutely aware of my surroundings; of how the wind changed directions, how it got warmer when the wind ceased, the quack of a duck, the prick of the grass under my feet, and the smell of the pinecones on my hands. It was only after I finished my pinecone stacked that I began to grasp what Goldsworthy was talking about.  I learned that it is difficult for me to focus on a single task; I think a lot of it has to do with a generation of multi-taskers—of sensory overload.  By making the pinecone stack, I was able block out other concerns and delve into the job at hand. 

            After I had finished all three projects, I was graced with a pleasant surprise.  When walking back up to alumni, I witnessed a sole figure walking purposefully down alumni with headphones in.  When they passed my dandelion swirl, they looked at it, kept walking, then stopped, turned around, took out their headphones and stared at the swirl.  The boy then took out his phone and snapped a picture, and then continued on his way, just as brisk.  I realize that this encounter may not mean much, but to think that this swirl could make someone stop, and reaffirm awareness in nature, made me very happy.  They were able to see something that is very temporary, and make it more permanent.

            By making these art pieces, I was able to interact with the land, and see it in a way that I had not seen it before.  By appreciating the little things such as dandelions and pinecones, I felt more connected to the land, something that is difficult to do.  I thought a lot about Wendell Berry’s article about how nature was in our backyard, and nature did not only take form in sublime landscapes.