discovering place

rivers and tides response

I think that Goldsworthy is implying that there is similar form all over the world, lines of rivers are not unlike lines of roads which are not unlike shorelines which are not unlike the veins in a leaf. Despite the similarities being found all around the world there is still a sensation of uprootedness that comes from traveling. When you travel somewhere unfamiliar you are suddenly faced with basic human needs that can get in the way of making artwork. Not knowing where to eat or how to navigate, being bombarded with new faces or new languages or new landscape, all are things that can so easily pull you out of your creative art making bubble which makes it difficult to orient yourself and get comfortable. Unfortunately being comfortable has a very strong impact on your creative flow.

Goldsworthy makes a discovery while working on his ice sculpture, the sun hits a certain point in the sky and the ice sculpture is then illuminated evenly on both sides. This excites him, although I am not entirely certain if it is the sheer beauty that excites him or something else. He begins to discuss that the very thing that brings the sculpture life also brings it death. The sculpture is made out of frozen water that he was able to shape and manipulate using the warmth of his hands, his mouth, a little bowl of water, the temperature of the air, and the preexisting icicles. It is a sculpture made of water, using water and the temperature to build it, and it is then destroyed by the rising temperature and made back into water. The work is site specific but it’s destruction is also site specific, it can’t be moved and can’t be saved but I think that the art, the magic, is in its ephemerality.

I think that the power in ephemeral work is its ability to change and grow before it dissipates. This varying lifespan is much more akin to the human experience than the typical archival piece of work that hangs on a while or sits on a pedestal for the better part of ‘forever’.  Goldsworthy seems to be interested in the moments just before destruction and in the catalyst that sets destruction in motion. He remarks that he is oftentimes so amazed that he is alive and it seems like his affinity for ephemeral work is almost his way of exercising his aliveness. He talks about his work being an entrance to this place where life ebbs and flows and I think that that is very evident by the short lived nature of his work. His works are fragile, organic, simultaneously deconstruction and reconstruction until the eventual point where the structures are too stressed to continue on and I think that that is very telling and similar to the human experience.

Goldsworthy says that total control can oftentimes be the death of our work, he also talks about tension quite a bit. I think that his work thrives on being in an environment with natural tensions. A lot of times artists create problems, or choose existing problems, and then make an attempt to solve them with their work. Goldsworthy puts himself in environments and allows the environment to create the problems for him, but instead of trying to solve the problems it seems like he just wants to understand the problems. He builds a rock structure 4 times, propelled by the pressure of the rising tides, and each time the rock structure crumbles. Instead of being frustrated by the failures he seems excited by them, excited by what he’s learned each time and excited by his progress and determined get further and further until he fully understands the stone and its properties.

Art is typically made through the act of failure. We have an idea and we try to execute it and somewhere along the way something goes terribly wrong, so we take a step back and learn from what happened and give it another try and another try and another try until eventually we have that moment, that single glorious moment where we feel like we’ve mastered it, solved it, figured it out, made something that is somehow worth the repeated failures. This is a process that seems to be fairly unique to the art world. My sister is a pharmacist and if she fails at her job the result is nothing short of disastrous for someone. The same can be said for doctors, lawyers, politicians (although they don’t seem to understand that), policeman, firefighters, engineers, farmers, etc etc etc. Where other occupations fear failure we artists celebrate it, learn from it, and then jump head first back into it.

Seeing Goldsworthy’s work in a museum takes away a bit of the magic, sterilizes it a bit and makes it seem more like a trick. When you look at his work in the environment in which it was formed you can see the source of the materials, the environmental challenges he faced, and the forms he was inspired by. He works intuitively but when you see the work in its home you can begin to piece together what triggered his intuition. Once the sculptures are isolated in the museum and the viewer is kept from seeing the challenges and inspirations it becomes easy to think that you’re viewing some kind of optical illusion, that underneath the pile of rocks there surely must be a hidden infrastructure keeping it all together. The magic of his work is not just in the final piece but also in the environment and in the actual making and construction of the piece.

Oftentimes our first impressions of a place prevent us from really getting to know the place. I remember when I first moved to Tucson it took a while to get used to the lack of grass in all of the neighborhoods. At first I would see a dirt patch yard and intuitively think that this must be a place that is uncared for, it must be in some sense unsafe. Once I got my “desert eyes” I realized that the lack of grass was actually normal, and anything different would show a complete disregard to the environment. I experienced something very similar when I first moved to the city to go to college. I had never lived in town before, never had neighbors closer than half a mile down the road and my experience in a metropolitan area was very slim. It took me quite a while to visually put together the urban landscape and even longer to feel safe and comfortable when walking around. I think that this is normal, we can’t escape our own personal biases but we can at least become aware of what our own biases are when visiting a new place and that can help us to overcome those biases a little faster.