Andy Goldsworthy, the artist at the center of Rivers and Tides, is probably right when he says that “words can do their job, but what I’m doing here says a lot more.”
It took me a while to get into the spirit of the film. For the most part, the narration and musical cues did not enhance my understanding of Goldsworthy’s work. He seemed to be constantly re-explaining the notion of cycles and allowing nature to participate in the work in the same words in basically the same way. At one point, I found myself complaining that I’d get more out of the film if it were silent or if the only sounds were the natural ones surrounding Goldsworthy’s work. I wound up telling Goldsworthy’s onscreen image to, “Shut up and let me see what you’re trying to say!”
This is something of a change for me. I’m more of a fan of words than images to convey ideas. It’s not that I don’t enjoy an idea expressed well through images, but I tend to think that there are very limited circumstances in which words aren’t the more precise way to convey a concept, philosophy, or argument. The well-explained graph or infographic is my ideal for words and images working together. Images can enhance and clarify a verbal explanation, but I always thought that whoever said a picture’s worth a thousand words was getting a terrible exchange rate. This is left-brained chauvinism, and I clearly need to think more about ways to convey information in a right-brained way.
I was very drawn to Goldsworthy’s stone walls and seeds. (He called them seeds or cones, but they looked much more like eggs to me.) Mortarless stone walls turn up everywhere that Scottish, Irish, and Scots-Irish people did, and my hometown is one of the major sites for them in the United States. It was interesting for me to see how much those walls are shaped by which stones are available—his cones in Scotland look very different from his walls in New York state, which look even less like the walls in Kentucky. It’s the same technique, but something as simple as different kinds of rocks (with different qualities in terms of hardness, texture, and cleavage) changes the nature of them so much.
Goldsworthy sees the reclamation of his work by nature as something that “makes more of it than [he] had ever hoped.” It’s not a destruction, it’s another process. “The real work is the change,” as he says. It’s hard not to see the changes as a loss, but he does.
At the house across the street from Rachel and John’s, a crew has vacuuming bees out from inside the walls. A colony of honeybees had established a hive inside the kitchen walls and had been rapidly expanding into the rest of the house. There was honey inside the walls and on them. I love that image—a kitchen that is being used to make food for a colony of bees. The house had mostly been cleaned by the time I could get a photo; I’m a bit allergic to bees, and I wasn’t getting too close to them while they were loose.
I wish the owners had considered it an option to let the bees stay, but this, like Goldsworthy’s work, was an ephemeral moment. A house full of bees becomes a public menace much sooner than squiggles made of icicles do, though, and I think that knowing of the extent to which it was infested only after the colony was being removed made the discovery of the bees’ network that much more fascinating.