‘Leaning into the Wind’: Andy Goldsworthy’s Intimacy with Environment ✮✮✮✮

To hear British Andy Goldsworthy speak about a tree, one that he has known for years, that has now fallen and is dead and slowly decomposing, one feels as if one is witnessing an intimate relationship that one has too often failed to engage in. Goldsworthy, at 61, is in love with the land and its natural features. “Leaning into the Wind” is the second documentary on this man who makes enchanting constructions with natural colors in unexpected ways.

“Leaning into the Wind” doesn’t begin with Goldsworthy leaning–in or out of the wind. Instead, we find him in a dilapidated hut of some sort. The exact age is never determined, but the roof doesn’t look well-maintained. As the title and credits come on the screen, Goldsworthy sweeps and seems to play with a shaft of light.

We are on a farm in rural South America where a woman explains through an interpreter how she makes her light grey floor from mud, declaring that this is a poor person’s home with nothing of value. Later, we see Goldsworthy and his workers in San Francisco roughening up the outside of parts of a tree. The tree is then installed within a building and mud is placed on it so that the branches and the walls have the same texture. At first all is smooth, but eventually the installation changes into a mosaic of crackled dry mud.

From there, without much explanation, we find ourselves watching Goldsworthy climbing through a line of trees. He is not climbing up, but across. His silhouetted figure struggles and he is, at times, almost parallel to the ground.

“There are a lot of contradictions in what I make,” he notes. “When I was younger, there was sort of a procedural…It isn’t so clear any more.”  Goldsworthy was born in Cheshire and grew up in a house on the edge of a green belt. He currently lives in southwest Scotland.

If you haven’t seen his art, you might not be fully aware of his acts of natural magic or just what exactly environmental art and land art is. Sometimes his works are just making patterns in the snow or rain by using his own body. Laying down on rock during a slight rain, he leaves a temporary dry shadow that will soon be erased as the rain continues. On a public outdoor stairway, he places a thick line of brightly colored leaves that will eventually blow away.

On the aforementioned tree–an elm tree that fell near a creek, his interactions vary with the season and the stages of decay. The elm trees have given him the vivid yellow he loves to use in his work, but Dutch elm disease had resulted in few elms and, as a result, decreased the yellow blaze of autumn. He uses snow in the winter and different vegetation at other times. He’s shocked when someone else saws off the limbs. One almost feels a sense of betrayal. H

Goldsworthy once worked on a farm and he learned about the endless fight against rocks and the building of walls and he does build walls with rock, chipping away layers to form arches and making containers of memories. He does not always work alone. In this documentary, he is shown working with Holly, one of four children he had with his ex-wife. And another daughter, Anna, worked as a production manager.

Of course, because his works can be ephemeral, he needs to photograph the process and here, we have video of his process and we can see that sometimes working with nature means nature is sometimes working against you. You will see him leaning into the wind on a blustery day when wind and rain are baptizing the green countryside below.

Director Thomas Reidelsheimer followed Goldsworthy for the 2001 documentary “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time” and now returns to see how time and times end has changed the working of Goldsworthy. If nothing else, this documentary makes one want to becomes more intimately engaged with one’s own environment and even participate in puckishly transient works that might surprise, puzzle or delight strangers.

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