Saturday, May 8, 2010

Andy Goldsworthy [Part I]: The Land

"The assumptio carnis means that God willed to coexist with the creature, that the creator willed to exist also as a creature for the reconciliation of the estranged world to himself." -- T. F. Torrance [1]

At the heart of Andy Goldsworthy's work is his personal relationship to the land. He works with objects in and elements of the land: using sticks, rocks, mud, clay, leaves, etc. He works in various environments and locations: fields, forests, rivers, mountains, city and gallery. Goldsworthy also travels away from his home in Scotland to other locations, such as Japan, the North Pole, or Spain. He works in the landscape: he explores landscape as a place that envelops and enfolds the human person. He works in a place: he is aware and makes use of the various processes -- natural and social -- that shape the land, and that precede and outlive his presence there. Goldsworthy explores all of these different aspects of what one can mean by 'land' through a creative practice that is both personal and intimate.

Goldsworthy's materials are the landscape. In relationship to the land, his creative practice has an epistemic goal; he hopes to discover something about his materials. In an interview, Goldsworthy emphasizes the exploratory nature of his creative practice:

I have an art that teaches mea very important things about nature, my nature, the land and my relationship to it. I don't mean that I learn in an academic sense; like getting a book and learning the names of plants, but something through which I try to understand the processes of growth and decay, of life in nature. Although it is often a practical and physical art, it is also an intensely spiritual affair that I have with nature: a relationship.[2]
Goldsworthy's creative practice is an act of discovery, but this is qualified by the statement that he is not trying to "learn in an academic sense." Instead, Goldsworthy's exploration of the landscape takes place within the intimacy of a committed relationship. He chooses to fully immerse himself in the physical terrain, and thereby gather a kind of "working" knowledge of the world as a whole. This epistemic dimension resides at the core of his work: "At the heart of whatever I do are a growing understanding and a sharpening perception of the land."[3]

Goldsworthy is profoundly aware that his presence as an artist is manifested in a place, and not simply before a homogenous mass of material. He writes, "When you make something [in Britain], unlike America, you work with a place that is so full of the relationship between people and the land, and also made so rich by it... The social nature of the British landscape demands to be acknowledged."[4] Goldsworthy's awareness of the land's human history, as well as its natural history, is evident in the long-term project Sheepfolds that seeks to restore numerous sheepfolds in Cumbria. His presence in Cumbria is like one stepping into a story already being told: he largely works on existing sites and he aims at restoring a function that has been part of the Cumbrian economy for hundreds of years. Although Sheepfolds is a highly original artistic project, it nevertheless is in continuity with the history and traditions of a place.

Goldsworthy's creative practice creates a space in which the land reveals its own creativity and beauty. His work is an act of discovery that finds in the ordinary stuff of the world an extraordinary element. The room required to achieve this discovery, to allow the land to present its beauty and meaning, is made by entering into the land and identifying with it as closely as possible. Similarly, in the incarnation, God comes to His creation in full creatureliness and reveals the true meaning of what it is to be a son or daughter of God. We may find a parallel here with Jeremy Begbie's suggestion that human creator's are to be "secretaries of God's praise."[5] Begbie argues for a Christologically oriented creativity which understands that "biblical language about the relation between Christ and creation should properly remind us that God's love for creation entails him honoring its integrity distinct from himself."[6] For Begbie, human creativity is understood as participating in the movements of the trinity. He writes,
In the humanity assumed by his Son, the Father has released our humanity from its crippling self-concern in such a way that a new corporate humanity has been made possible, one which is bound together with that same self-forgetful love which binds Father and Son. [7]
Goldsworthy's creative practice avoids modern obsessions with self-expression and individuality, and explores what it means to be in relationship with the land. At the same time, however, he 'uses' the land as his material. The epistemic nature of his creative practice is always seeking out new aspects and potentials of the land. Goldsworthy makes discoveries and brings them before the viewer in such a way that the land is felt to "speak for itself."

[1] T. F. Torrance, Incarnation, (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008), 65.
[2] Andy Goldsworthy, Hand to Earth (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990), 164.
[3] Andy Goldsworthy, Collaboration with Nature, (New York: Abrams, 1990), 4.
[4] Andy Goldsworthy, Andy Goldsworthy: Sheepfolds (Michale Hue Williams Fine Art, 1996), 17.
[5] Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation's Praise (London: T & T Clark, 1991), 177.
[6] Ibid, 171.
[7] Ibid, 180.

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