Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"The very thing..."

We don't have a TV here on the island, but once a week or so we curl up in bed and watch a DVD on my laptop. Last evening it was a full-length documentary about the Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, called Rivers and Tides.

Goldsworthy is unique in his whimsical and provocative environmental constructions. For his materials he uses twigs, leaves, flowers, thorns, raindrops, stone, ice, sand, dust. The works are ephemeral, although recorded photographically. Some last only until sunrise, or high tide, or the next strong wind; he works on the edge of collapse. "The very thing that brings a work to life," he says, "is the thing that will cause its death."

Goldsworthy has long been a hero of mine. I own all of his books, and they have taught me to see the natural world in a new way. He works in a place, he says, between "breathlessness and uncertainty."

About ten years ago, The Britannica Yearbook asked me to write an appreciation of Goldsworthy to accompany a photo essay. My compensation was to be money, or $1000 worth of deeply discounted Britannica merchandise. I chose the latter, and Britannica kindly shipped to the island (at their own expense) multiple sets of the Junior Britannica encyclopedia, which now reside in Exuma's tiny primary schools.