Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Earthworks: the inspiring land art of Andy Goldsworthy


Being a huge admirer of the land art of Andy Goldsworthy and the writing of David Craig,it was a real treat for me to come across a joint work-Arch- which came out as an illustrated hardback in 1999. Somehow,it had passed me by. Basically, for those people who just do not get contemporary art, Andy's often transient works captured in photographs and created from natural materials like branches, rocks and leaves, would leave them nonplussed.

The Arch project more especially would have them scratching their heads with regard to its concept and execution. Basically, Andy and his assistant towed a trailer of roughly hewn sandstone blocks from where they were quarried in the Scottish lowlands and followed an old drove road through Cumbria, erecting and dismantling the arch at locations en route. These locations were as diverse as a cattle market,Shap High Street,crumbling sheep folds and lay-bys. At intervals Andy was joined by David Craig who captures the essence of the journey in his own inimitable style. But let Andy Goldsworthy himself explain the project...

I will make an arch in Scotland from Locharbriggs red sandstone. It will be erected in a sheepfold on the Lowther Hills near to where I live, after it will follow a drove route from Scotland through Cumbria and into Lancashire or Yorkshire. This is one group of work within the sheepfolds project which will have its origin outside Cumbria yet still leave its mark there, in common with people,animals and things which have passed through this area over the centuries, leaving evidence of their journey but neither coming or staying there.
The arch will stay overnight at folds along or close by the drove route. it will be erected and photographed at each site before being dismantled and taken to the next. Some of the folds (still identifiable on the maps) no longer exist; others are in need of repair.Several virtually derelict wooden folds will be rebuilt in stone, continuing what I see as a tradition of first drawing a fold with rail,fence or posts before it is made in stone. the arch will,wherever possible,leave behind it,a trail of revived working folds, a trail of goodwill.


And so it goes. From one location to the next. Under louring skies the geologically alien sandstone arch takes root amongst the nettles and grey speckled volcanic rocks and granite boulders. It's colour changing chameleon like from sun kissed peach to rain washed vermilion until it nears it's final destination, a pig sty near Kirkby Lonsdale. David Craig describes the final bucolic scene as ...

akin to the atmosphere at a sheep shearing or when a horse is being shod at a smithy'...' When the arch is complete,looking more compact than usual under the lour of the crag,and nearly everyone has gone away, Amy Spillard aged five, dares to clamber up the arch and tiptoes along its crest. She looks like a girl-ghost in an enchanted garden a hundred years ago. All day we have lived in a place which is summer in a nutshell-in a pumpkin rind perhaps,or the calyx of a flower. the sun sinks in the wooded hills to the west,rises to shine  full into the dell a few hours before the arch must be dismantled.

Harold Drasdo:'Art cannot improve upon nature'

Interestingly, I happened to mention to our mutual friend Harold Drasdo how much I had enjoyed Andy and David's work and to my surprise, Harold told me he wasn't a fan of Andy Goldsworthy's work. Offering a comment ripe for philosophical discussion 'art cannot improve upon nature'. Sheesh..that's quite a statement!

As I was wandering in the Berwyns the other day I was thinking about this and I came to the conclusion that Andy himself would almost certainly not see his work as improving upon nature, rather as collaborating with nature. It is however something that greater minds than mine will have pondered, that eternal conundrum..'Yes...but is it art?' To my mind however....absolutely! The world can only be a better place with inspired minds like Andy Goldsworthy and David Craig in it as far as I'm concerned.

Ruin of a sheep fold in the Berwyns

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