Andy Goldsworthy: Big Tears (Part 1) and A Gift to the Backyard (Part 2)

January 5, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Projects/Series

I don’t drink coffee, so let’s have a beer … My posts are always collaborations and are presented in two parts. Part 1 is a summary of a shared experience with my collaborator(s). Part 2 is a response, often in the form of a project created specifically for this blog.


My collaborator, Sam O'Neil

In early December my son Sam and I sat down to watch Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (Dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2001), the amazing documentary about British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Sam is five years old and in kindergarten, and is all about Star Wars, Hot Wheels, and superheroes. However, growing up with me and his creative father (Steve), he’s seen his fair share of art exhibitions. I thought it would be fun to watch Rivers and Tides and talk about what Andy does, and then maybe go out and try to create some environmental works on our own.

A rocky start … Early in the film Andy builds an amazing stick form (see video below) on the shore close to a body of water, and Sam is thoroughly enchanted. “Mommy, let’s build one and play in it!” Racing ahead with filmic compaction of time, the form is swept up by the tide, gently begins to break apart, and floats away. In the film, Andy is thrilled. At home, Sam is silently crying next to me. Bottom lip sucked in, and big fat tears roll down his face. That was the precursor to the onset of a full on torrent of sobbing. In between sucking in air and sniffing back snot, Sam declares, “It’s all gone! He worked so hard (sob) and made that cool fort (sob) and built it too close to the water and and and and and now it’s ALL GONE.”

Holding my Little Rabbit close, I quietly turn off the movie and begin a conversation about the beauty of impermanence, and what “temporal” means. Small children live in the moment, and can be deeply moved by perceived disruptions to their notion of the way things “should be.” I was made fully aware in a sweet moment that this film, Andy’s work, and our quiet conversation were going to change the way my son views and comprehends his world. Sensing that he isn’t totally buying in to the value of making things that won’t last, I also see that he’s curious, so we turn back to the film. A moment later Andy eloquently and simply explains that his works are “gifts.” Then Sam got it! “That fort was a gift to the ocean,” he says, gesturing excitedly. And later he concludes that, “those leaves are a gift to the earth,” and “those sticks are a gift to the wind.”

Although Goldsworthy (born 1956) has been on the international scene for a couple decades, Sam reminded me that those not well acquainted with contemporary art practices might still find his work and his process mystifying and magical. The works involve you in the process of their creation. By this I mean that although the more permanent sculptures and photographs (which function as performance and site-intervention documentation) are aesthetically compelling as objects and images, one is always completely engaged in wondering what the artist had to go through to create the works. Where did the materials come from? How long did it take to create? How did he decide on that shape, form, or pattern? What is the relationship between the site and the objects? This is what Sam and I talked about both after the movie was over, and again as we planned our backyard interventions.

We made three gifts to our backyard on a cold, crisp afternoon in December.

Working hard - mandarinquats from our tree.

_Orange Line or Gift to the Lawn_, Dec 2010

_Berry Flower or Gift to the Wind_, Dec 2010

Steve joins in the fun.

_Red Line or Gift to a Tree_, Dec 2010

_Red Line or Gift to a Tree_ (detail), Dec 2010

8 Comments

  1. modnik Says:

    What a great family project! Totally creative play without any damage to the environment. No toy stores, no pre-packaged play. Just nature and the beauty in common things. Awesome!

  2. michellebelle Says:

    Lovely! I can’t wait til my little ones are old enough to watch, talk, and participate in projects like this.

  3. Justine Says:

    Agreed! Yay for not propagating more chinese landfill. And he just learned one of the three marks of existence in Buddhism… anicca… the absence of permanence and continuity.

  4. Nancy Says:

    This was enchanting – a lovely and insightful way to interact with your little one and also, share with us another dimension of creation.

  5. Troy Freund Says:

    What a lovely story! Oh the insights from a child! Excellent!

  6. Chris Riedy Says:

    I feel so inspired by this story. I’ve loved Andy Goldsworthy’s work for years and I’ve got a 4 year old about to start school who also loves Star Wars, Hot Wheels and superheroes. I’ve been trying to find ways to lure him out into nature and engage his interest in the natural world but I never thought of something like this. I can feel our own little Goldsworthy tribute coming on!

  7. Meg Shiffler Says:

    Hi Everyone – Thanks for your responses to my post. I’m really happy that it’s been enjoyable and inspiring. For those of you with kids, like Chris, you can take them to see Andy’s work at the following locations: the entrance to the de Young Museum (free because the work is outside before you enter), the Predidio (free), and outside at Stanford University (free). You can Google for images and more info on each work. Also watch for shows at the Haines Gallery in the 49 Geary Building – looks imposing, but very kid friendly.
    Meg

  8. Amy L. Says:

    This is awesome!! Andrew Goldsworthy is truly someone who inspires people to be creative and try out their own versions of his work. I definitely would love to do this with my children someday and love the work you guys ended up doing :)

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