Filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer on his admiration for AG: 'Crawling through a hedge... I love that kind of artwork'
An impressive asceticism characterizes the work of British artist Andy Goldsworthy -- a willingness to integrate himself into nature no matter the physical cost.
His fingers bitten with cold, he patiently emblazons a wooded nook with leaves of brilliant yellow. He leans into a Scottish gale, attempting to balance his weight against the buffeting wind. He traverses a denuded hedge of sharpened branches -- not to the side of it but through it.
These are some of the stirring images captured by director Thomas Riedelsheimer in his new documentary Leaning Into the Wind, which opened Friday in select U.S. cinemas (New York, LA and San Francisco, with more cities to follow).
I think that's the beauty of art, that it just makes you step aside off the normal way of walking or looking.
This is the second documentary from Riedelsheimer exploring the work of Goldsworthy -- the first was Rivers and Tides in 2001. Leaning Into the Wind might be described as a more personal film, as Goldsworthy offers greater insight into his process and into himself.
Nonficionfilm.com submitted five questions via email to Riedelsheimer about his film and his thoughts on Goldsworthy.
1. You have been documenting Andy Goldsworthy’s artistic practice off and on for over 15 years now. What captivates you about Andy and his work?
Thomas Riedelsheimer: I guess there are several layers of attraction. First of all, Andy is a very interesting person, full of passion and driven by an outstanding urge to understand and to learn about the human state of being and our relation and link to nature. He taught me awareness and [a] very special way of seeing. Also, I love the fact that he puts himself into a situation where he is not in control. Andy loves to be in control, but he knows that his art is much stronger if there is an element of losing control.
One of the first things he said to me when we started Rivers and Tides was: "You have to let go of your expectations.” For a documentary filmmaker this has been a crucial and essential lesson. I guess in a way our work is similar and we think and feel similar[ly]. And of course I just love some of his work. His rain shadows, for example, are quite simple but very deep works. And I am totally intrigued by the fugitive character of most of his work. In the beauty of his work there is always a hint of impermanence. I am still fascinated by that but also by his knowledge of and sensitivity for the natural world.
2. How do you see his art having evolved since you first began filming him around the year 2000?
TR: There are clearly changes and shifts. I guess the most obvious change is that his work has grown darker and deeper. There are a lot of works dealing with earth and stone and digging into something, or with roots and the idea of being below a surface. Also, he kind of came back to using his body more in his art. He did that when he started off to work in nature as a student, but my feel is that he forgot a little bit about it until recently. I love that kind of art work. Crawling through a hedge. For me it undermines my idea of art and what it should be and do.
3. How would you describe his relationship to nature and the elements? He is not so much an observer of it (as perhaps one might say landscape artists of the 19th century were) as a “participant “ in it. He integrates himself into nature.
TR: It is hard for me to analyze his relationship to nature. I feel more comfortable to find images for that. Images leave more room for interpretation; words are more precise, more kind of claiming a truth. When working on the “Sleeping Stones“ in Spain he talked about the idea of lying in a carved-out stone and finding sanctuary in it. So I guess there is an element of seeking comfort in nature, of being part of it. Maybe that is one of the big issues of mankind -- to look for our (lost) link to nature. We feel that we are separate but we have a yearning to unite again. And it is not about this idea of going back to an animal state, but to feel the flow of nature and be part of that. But that is only my view.
4. We often think of the earth as somehow immutable and permanent. Yet much of Goldsworthy’s work suggests something transitory and mutable about nature. How important is that notion to his work?
TR: My feel is that he does not see anything permanent in nature. Even stone which we consider to be permanent to him is a temporary solidification of material that once was fluid and will get eroded in the future. The themes of “river/flow” and “tide/cycle” in the previous film Rivers and Tides talks about the permanent change and movement of everything around us. I guess the deep awareness of this fact is an essential quality in Andy´s work.
5. Goldsworthy displays immense patience as he creates many of his pieces—waiting for leaves to turn a certain shade, for instance. How important was it for you as photographer and filmmaker to be equal to that rhythm?
TR: You can´t work against the powerful rhythm of nature. This goes back to the previously mentioned idea of “letting go [of] your expectations.” Nature doesn’t care about your time schedule. This is sometimes annoying and even painful but it is also powerful and almost liberating. You just can´t help it and swimming against the current is normally not a very efficient way. I can be very patient and I never experienced Andy´s rhythm as difficult to adapt to. Also, we sometimes mix [confuse] the idea of patience with boredom -- of a concept of losing time. I never had the feeling of wasting a single minute of time while working with Andy. There are too many things to see, hear, feel and learn.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.