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Art & Ecology

Art & Ecology:

Perspectives and Issues

Ecological Design

Andy Goldsworthy, Ballet Atlantique

by Don Krug

Andy Goldsworthy, a non-traditional sculptor, was born in Cheshire, England in 1956 and raised in Yorkshire. Currently, Goldsworthy resides at Penpont, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Throughout his childhood, he enjoyed playing and working in the outdoors. While attending Harrogate High School, an advanced art school, Goldsworthy spent his free time working on a local farm. These farm experiences provided him with direct encounters and knowledge related to working the land.

After high school, Goldsworthy attended Bradford College of Art. Later, at Preston College in Lancaster, England, a remote rural town, Goldsworthy took additional courses in fine art and began to develop his own style. He never relinquished his love of nature. Soon, the outdoors became his studio and he discovered he was happier living on a farm than in a college studio. Goldsworthy professes to be less interested in a view of the land as represented and more concerned with the substance of the earth, the things that live on it, and what happens through seasonal changes. His view of nature opposes altering the land. Instead, Goldsworthy believes that the land is his teacher.

Goldsworthy's art encompasses both ephemeral and permanent characteristics of change. Goldsworthy states:

I have become aware of how nature is in a state of change and how that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Often I can only follow a train of thought while a particular weather condition persists. When a change comes, the idea must alter or it will, and often does, fail. I am sometimes left stranded by a change in the weather with half-understood feelings that have to travel with me until conditions are right for them to reappear.

During one persistently cold period that I have had to work with in Britain, I was able to pursue ideas only hinted at in previous winters. It is difficult to predict where good ice and icicles will form. When the cold arrived, that is where I went--disappointed at first because it was too sheltered by overhanging trees. One small pool was barely frozen. I used this precious ice--the work was not good, but it gave me a feel for the place. (p. 2)

Goldsworthy is known for working in unfavorable weather conditions anddeviates from traditional sculptors by waiting for snow, rain, and seasonal change. During the late winter of 1988-89, Goldsworthy, with help from several assistants, created 18 large snowballs that were displayed in the Old Museum of Transport in Glasgow, Scotland. Within five days, only the debris collected in the making of the snowballs remained scattered on the floor in pools of water. Goldsworthy marks moments of change through the documentation of events and performances.

Another example of Goldsworthy's documentation of ephemeral change throughart can be seen in his photographs of the Ballet Atlantique. The Ballet Atlantique was a performance piece about the significance of change and the fleeting characteristics of time. Goldsworthy took a series of pictures recording the passage of sticks thrown into the air. Goldsworthy believes that the intensity of the gestural act of creation is only apparent momentarily, recorded through processes of generation, regeneration, and decay.

Goldsworthy has also worked on large scale permanent projects. He stated:

My approach to larger, more permanent work is longer-term. There is a process of familiarization with site through drawings that explore the location and the space. This is the only time I use drawing to work through ideas; for me it represents a change in approach. I often live with a site at the back of my mind for months, sometimes years--a target for energies and ideas.

By working large, I am not trying to dominate nature. If people feel small in relation to a work, they should not assume that there is an intention to make nature itself small. If anything, I am giving nature a more powerful presence in the mass of earth, stone, wood that I use. I do not change the underlying processes of growth, and nature's grip is tightened on the site that I have worked. (p. 2)

When looking at Goldsworthy's work, it is easy to question the role photography plays in its documentation. The camera is crucial for Goldsworthy. His art is fragile, transient, and inaccessible. Therefore, the photograph becomes a means for the artist to make his work accessible to a wide viewing public. Through photographs, the viewer sees his work from a limited point of view. The artist is able, through the camera, to manipulate color, light effects, and perspective. The work is taken out of its natural surrounding and the fleeting moments and randomness of nature are removed via its mechanical (re)production.

Whether Goldsworthy's work is permanent or impermanent, photographed or not, he is concerned with the relationships people have with their natural world. He feels his art is a way to teach himself and his viewing audience about how life affects and is affected by particular ecological systems and cultural conditions. Goldsworthy's art invites you to look closer at your surroundings and focus your perceptions through all five senses. Goldsworthy speaks passionately about his work. The artist feels we all are a part ofnature and cannot be separate from it.

Several authors have commented about the significance of Goldsworthy's art. John Fowls states, "Andy would in any case be difficult to place in terms of today's fashionable art movements. He is sui generis, of his own kind, alone." Terry Friedman points out, "His rapport with nature is a delicate and beautiful one, sometimes almost painfully so; but it is in no way tentative because he has recognized the strengths inherent in natural objects and uses them to striking effects."

David Bourdon said, "Goldsworthy's ingeniously crafted work is immensely appealing to viewers because it reawakens a childlike joy in the unexpected metamorphoses of commonplace materials." Tony Godfrey suggests that, "Goldsworthy emphasizes his technical cleverness, a crafty adroitness, and turns viewers into voyeurs at a performance."

Lynn MacRitchie proclaims that "Goldsworthy, whose self-professed ambition is to utilize nature's inherent energy, succeeds in making its forces visible." There are many ways to understand the work of Andy Goldsworthy and contemporary ecological art.



August, England: The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture.

Baker, K. (1997, February). Searching for the window into nature's soul, Smithsonian, 27, 94-105.

Bourdon, D. (1993). Andy Goldsworthy at Lelong. Art in America,p. 121.

Godfrey, T. (1994). Richard Wilson's 'water table': Andy Goldsworthy. Burlington Magazine, p. 474.

Goldsworthy, A. (1990). A Collaboration with Nature. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Goldsworthy, A. (1993). Hand to earth, Andy Goldsworthy sculpture, 1976-1990. New York: Abrams

Goldsworthy, A. (1994). Stone. New York: Abrams.

Goldsworthy, A. (1996). Wood, Andy Goldsworthy. New York: Abrams.

MacRitchie, L. (1995). Residency on Earth. Art in America, p.90-95.

© 2006