For Your Closer Contact
Andy Goldsworthy, Director's Cut, Snow Comes And Goes
This period of new AI technology seems to be arriving for most people in little shocks and novelties, tremors of what we’re told is seismic activity, not at all enjoyable. The generated texts have a tinny resonance. The false photographs are ugly; their light never was and looks processed, viscous, digitally masticated.
Naturally, in the thickening unreality, one thinks of the real, of touch and substances, things that grow and die, of wild air with the pulse of weather inside it. This beautiful film helps.
It’s lovely to watch Andy Goldsworthy make momentary shapes in the landscape. It turns out to be very hard work, physically demanding. In Nova Scotia he loses feeling in his fingers to make this:
I’ve been thinking about different kinds of time recently, different feelings of duration and shapes of time, lines and circle - ordinary time, seasonal time, grief time, pandemic time. I’ve been reading books that live and think this through: Marina Tsvetaeva’s Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries 1917-1922, Denise Riley’s Time Lived Without Its Flow, Marguerite Duras’s The War, Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist. Time, evanescence, elapsing, is folded in to Goldsworthy’s work. There’s an obvious comparison with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of sand mandalas, those exquisite geometric meditations that are made then swept away.
The natural world does the sweeping away for Goldsworthy, sometimes before he has finished the construction.
In the film, he talks about how this degree of risk of failure is necessary for the quality he wants in the works. He doesn’t specify what that is. For me, it’s something like mortality, the delicacy of presence, the prodigious unlikeliness of a formation holding that is like the prodigious unlikeliness of any living thing.
There is a wonderful section in which he makes a sculpture in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia that the tide takes away. He watches with pleasure as new forms are generated by the movement and the sculpture is extended by this event.
Afterwards, he talks about it with great wonder and excitement. I found what he said very moving and profound and later went back to transcribe it when I found that he hadn’t quite said what I’d understood. He trails off as he’s saying it:
What I touched on this time, I haven’t simply made the piece to be destroyed by the sea. The work has been given to the sea as a gift. And the sea has taken the work and made more of it than I could ever have hoped for. And I think that … if I can see in that … ways of understanding … those things that happen to us in life, that changes our lives, that causes upheavals and shock … Can’t explain that.
Maybe he didn’t articulate it in the end because it is too much to hope for, that we experience as disaster or loss, as the world works in dissolution of our forms and projects, is instead a transformation into something rich and strange and beyond hoping. It is, at least, a great relief, a great unbinding, to think that return, the restoration of some prior order is never the point and is against the living grain of existence.
Youtube Treasure #9
A very different short film. I found this delightful and often very funny. Mostly, it is John Smith giving instructions on the soundtrack of footage of a corner in Dalston as though he is directing real events. It reminded me of the project of staging ordinary life in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, only loopier. It evolves into something quite complex and highly self-aware. And I always like the effect of the disjoining of image and narration, that you get later on in this short film, when the viewer’s imagination is given a task quite separate from observing what is on the screen.
-2 degrees. Snow in large, soft flakes. Haberdashery. They felt together, fill forks in the trees with their new white fabric.
-1 degree. Thick pelts. Exploring wind.
0 degrees. A stiff grey that seems to press at the windows, standing there like rhino hide. And then, late in the day, the most delicate dancing snow.
1 degree. The full grey sky, the black tree trunks and plastered white of Brueghel’s Hunters In The Snow. Light snow slightly fizzing the light. Later, the temperature rises and snow slides hissing from theroof.
-1 degree. A long walk encountering two kinds of cold. The wind cold, that mugs you of your heat and speeds away with it. And the cold of stillness, of particles not moving, stone cold, separate.
4 degrees. A succulent melt, sweet-sounding in sunlight. The sound of crows makes distance, their cough or laugh or sharp retort travelling away.
6 degrees. Sunshine. Actual warmth, that the body can believe in. A sensation of relaxation, expansion.
8 degrees. Dim, grey, sleeved in rain.
-1 degrees. Changeable: sun and swirls of cloudy bad weather. Smiling through tears. Later, a fizz of large snowflakes, also not lasting long.
-2 degrees. Blue keyholes. Wandering flakes.
6 degrees. Spring is settling in. Nuthatches repeat at the feeder. In the park, the ducks are active, noisy, on shimmering water.
8 degrees. Sun on dwindling remnants of resistant snow. Birdsong through the trees, that silver strife.
4 degrees. A grey day of housekeeping. The matted old leaves that pack the edges of the road are now dry enough that the sparrows are tugging them apart for nesting materials.
6 degrees. Heavy rain. The sparrows can be heard in the gutters just the other side of the wall in several places in the flat. Their sturdy little claws, hopping and scraping as they make their new nests. The grip of life, its strength and effort. I think of that nice American phrase: hardscrabble.
3 degrees. Sun. A few fine white brushstrokes of cloud. Goldfinches, four or five of them, have installed a song factory in the fir trees by my office window. Their machines ring and hiss all day.