Rivers and Tides (2001)

Reid Said:
October 23, 2004 at 9:55 am

Dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer
90 minutes
8/10

(Note: The following was added on May 20, 2006: This is a documentary about artist Andy Goldsworthy and his work. What’s unique about his work is that he uses natural elements to construct his pieces without any tools (at least I never saw him use any tools).

Should You See the Film?

This is the second time I saw the film, and I didn’t regret it. I really love Goldworthy’s art. I wouldn’t recommend this film who do not enjoy looking at art. For those that do, don’t go unless you’re in the mood to look at art, which is to say be patient.

(If you think you’re never go to see the film or would need a lot of encouragement to see this, I would encourage you to read more. If you know you want to watch this, stop reading. I’m pretty sure Kevin would really like this film.)

Personal Comments
(Spoilers)

I especially like the art that he creates in partnership with nature. I like the fact that he almost exclusively uses his hands in his work, and he sees his work as a dialogue with nature–specially because his work requires an understanding of nature. For example, while building a egg shaped sculpture out of found rocks, he stacks the rocks upon each other with only the weight of the rocks holding the piece together. It’s like he’s playing jenga.

To be successful he must understand the nature and propertities of the rock, and the ground the rock sits on, among other things. The process of building, watching the piece wobble or even crumble(!) constitutes a dialogue and an understanding of the material he utilizes. After four attempts to build the piece (This was on the beach, and he had to complete the piece before the tide came in, so there was a pressure element.)–the first attempt ended in the piece reaching a foot in height, and the second attempt two feet–he talked about the way the progress of the piece represented his growing understanding of the rocks and the environment.

Another beautiful way his pieces interact with nature is the way nature break down his pieces. After he makes a piece, nature takes over and often ends up “destroying” the piece. But he doesn’t see this as destruction, so much as an offering that nature accepts and takes in. The film shows several beautiful examples of this using time-elapsed photography.

I also loved the fact that his pieces are unstable. The fact that they can fall apart any time really adds an energy to his work that doesn’t exist in other works. He mentions how too much control from any artist (i.e. using materials to ensuring a piece won’t fall a part) can take away from the piece. Because of this, when you see Goldsworthy’s art, the energy (potential energy) is present and more palpable. The excitement is the similar to the thrill I get when listening to jazz or other improvised music. The greater risk of messing up adds an extra level of excitement to the music.

Finally, beyond the conceptual level and the approach of Goldsworthy, I just loved the way his pieces looked. Whether standing still (although even when the pieces does not exhibit visible movement, you sense the movemen “hidden” beneath, as I mentioend earlier) or in motion, I enjoyed them both equally.

5 Responses to “Rivers and Tides (2001)”


  1. pen

    I borrowed Reid’s DVD and really enjoyed this documentary. It reminded me of Ulee’s Gold, because the film sort of meandered, but not aimlessly. The film maker resisted some opportunities to speed up the film (time lapsed?) and let the art play itself out. One scene in particular was leaves “pinned” together with thorns and placed in the river. He patiently catches the essence of Goldsworthy’s art.

    I like that Goldsworthy’s art is like a collaboration with nature. He doesn’t see something in nature and “enhances” or replicates it, but rather seems to have his own vision which is imposed upon nature, but in the most harmonious, collaborating and natural way. I am not sure if this makes sense, but watch this film and I think it will.

    Goldsworthy comes across as thoughtful, respectful, passionate and eccentric but in an accessible way. He has a perspective that is not the norm. I was a bit jealous … wishing I had such a unique way of being, seeing and experiencing. You have to hear his commentary about the iodine in the soft rocks on the bottom of the river. Wow. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not seen it yet.

    And at another point in the film, Goldsworthy says something like: if he goes too long without creating art, when he lectures (about himself and his work) it is almost like he is talking about someone else. He needs to be working in nature, creating, touching, in order to maintain his sense of self.

  2. pen

    Reid: he did use some tools. Some chisels for the rock wall and the shears (or whatever) to work with the bramble. Remember, he said something like he equates it with bloody fingers and it’s one of the few times he’ll actually use tools (though his gloves had the fingertips cut off).

  3. Reid

    I must have forgot about that, but what you say seems familiar, now that you mention it.

    What did you think about the role of the filmmaker in terms of participating in the “creation” of Goldsworthy’s art? What I mean is that the filmmaker selects angles of the artwork and also makes decisions (e.g. editing, use of time-lapse sequences) that affect the audience’s experience of the pieces. I wondered how Goldsworthy felt about that. Perhaps, he had a say in those decisions?

  4. pen

    Frankly, I think Goldsworthy rather be out in nature creating than seeing if he (and his art) was accurately depicted in film. I think he agreed to do this film because he trusts the filmmaker. You are right that the filmmaker had many decisions to make that influence our perception of the man and his art. Having seen the end product, I believe that trust was well placed.

  5. Reid

    For the most part I agree that the trust was well-placed. I don’t know if Goldsworthy was as casual about the way the filmmaker would depict his art as your post implies. I would say that in general most artists have a specific ideas about how people should view their art. If you’re a filmmaker, choosing the angles and lighting of a particular shot (not to mention the editing and acting, writing, etc.) is an essential part of her craft. A painter selects a particular perspective to paint to. Goldsworthy also takes photographs of his work and I would imagine most people experience his work through photographs. He has to make decisions about the angle, lighting, composition (and for his work, time) of the photographs. If cares about these issues, then I would assume that he would care about the filmmaker’s handling of those issues as well.

    Of course, if he doesn’t really have any interest in people experiencing his art (something I wouldn’t assume), then what I’m saying doesn’t apply.

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