Ripple in still water

Temporary creations blur the boundary between artiface and nature

Steven Snyder

It is difficult to distill a film like “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time.” It is not a traditional narrative, as it lacks plot. Then again, it cannot be lumped with traditional documentaries, which tend to involve interviews and in-depth analysis of a subject or event. Rather, “Rivers and Tides” is a quiet, contemplative attempt to help the viewer see the world through the eyes of a most unusual artist. It is the story of his perspective, and while it may be classified under the “documentary” genre, this is a film constructed to enlighten as well as educate.

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist enthralled by his ability to interact with nature. Using stones, he builds huge cone-shaped designs, only to leave them in the middle of fields or streams. He takes branches and connects them, forming intricate designs. He tosses colored dye into running streams and observes the currents.

The beauty behind his art is his fundamental approach. Goldsworthy is not a man interested in creating an objective artistic work, but in finding an artistic balance with time that can only exist in a purely natural setting. In one notable segment, he takes a pile of thick sticks, arranges them in a circle, and awaits the incoming tide to take his intricate sphere out to sea. For him, magic occurs in that one moment of unpredictably. Yes, his creation will be destroyed, but it will also have its moment of connection with the world. To then see the circle drift out into the waves is indeed a strangely serene and beautiful climax.

In another moment, Goldsworthy builds one of his famous cones out of stones and, again, awaits the incoming tide. Once the water hits shore, the cone disappears beneath the waves. And the next morning, as the waves recede, the cone re-emerges. It is a breathtaking scene because it seems pure and untainted. Nothing is artificial, nothing forced, but a seemingly impossible balance between man’s creation and nature’s unyielding power.

This “documentary” works because it captures the ideology behind Goldswor-thy’s passion. He is a man driven as few are, not content to merely observe a sunset or beach, but committed to interacting with what surrounds him. And often this leads to moments of frustration, as nature refuses to cooperate or as some of his works crumble before his eyes. But even here he applies a message to the madness. “When I build something,” says Goldsworthy, “I often take it to the very edge of its collapse, and that’s a very beautiful balance.”

Director Thomas Riedel-sheimer perfectly captures his relentless obsession. He patiently observes Goldswor-thy’s efforts, helping the viewer to care about each creation, and then is wise enough to witness the final result. Riedelsheimer waits for the cone to emerge from beneath the waves. The camera slowly follows the circle of sticks out into the ocean.

And at these moments, “Rivers and Tides” does what so few films are able to: catapult the audience into Goldsworthy’s world. For an instant, we cannot help but see the world through his eyes, sharing his passion, dreams and excitement.

In one of the film’s most notable scenes, Goldsworthy lays on the ground as raindrops splash on his face. After a few moments, he stands up, revealing his latest work – the dry outline of his body surrounded by the damp ground. It is those who can appreciate this quiet moment of harmony with the world who will find themselves lost in the meditation that is “Rivers and Tides.” For the remainder of the population, a new episode of “Fear Factor” will likely do just fine.

“Rivers and Tides” is now showing at the Lagoon Cinema, (612) 825-6006.

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