Film Review: Leaning into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy

This meditative and occasionally goofy take on Andy Goldsworthy’s awe-inspiring, site-specific art pieces has beauty to spare.
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A diffident and querulous presence onscreen, the artist Andy Goldsworthy is not necessarily the first person one would choose to serve as the host of a documentary on his art. In Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Leaning Into the Wind, which takes its name from a 2015 exhibition of his work, Goldsworthy bobs and weaves around the meaning and purpose of the art that he creates out in the wild, as many artists do. But unlike other artists who can weave a tapestry of grandiloquence around work that doesn’t seem to necessarily deserve the weight of their words, Goldsworthy carries with him a distinctly British humility that helps offset the fogginess of the concepts he’s frequently expressing.

Unlike some other practitioners of land art, Goldsworthy’s pieces lean toward the small and refined. He doesn’t aim for the grandly epic in the manner of Robert Smithson’s great rock spirals. Many pieces that we see in Riedelsheimer’s formally restrained but visually resplendent movie frequently seem as though designed to be discovered by accident. Brilliantly colored fall leaves are turned into a kind of natural gold leafing to coat the sides of rocks, or to create lines that run down the middle of a staircase. The artist flicks his hands and fistfuls of sand through a bright shaft of light, playing it like an instrument. An eerie tangle of rock arches jostle into one another like a frozen crowd of commuters. On a cold and windswept beach, several human-shaped hollows are carved out of the rock as though they were open graves just waiting for new occupants. A long and impossibly straight trench is also carved painstakingly out of rock.

There are variations on themes repeated throughout in these installations constructed in out-of-the-way places from Brazil to Scotland and New Hampshire, mostly focusing on change and transience. But the soul of the movie is seeing Goldsworthy himself in his outdoor element. At times, Riedelsheimer sits back and watches the sometimes-childlike artist clamber through the branches of a line of trees, lay himself out on the wet ground solely in order to leave a kind of rain angel imprint behind, or chisel away at a boulder with a circular saw. This is an artist who, rhapsodizing about a large old Dutch elm tree that was the centerpoint of a piece, thrills to the idea of working with the same tree for the rest of his life.

Riedelsheimer—who also made the hit 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time—doesn’t provide much of a conceptual framework for these swooning displays of landscape cinematography scored by avant-gardist Fred Frith’s stormy rackets of sound. Except for the odd title informing us when the location has changed, there is no labeling of one piece or another, and no discussion of Goldsworthy’s career or life. Goldsworthy tries to make sense of his work here and there, but doesn’t make much progress beyond his loving reverence for the natural world and an interest in the impermanence of everything.

“Perhaps I’m thinking too much,” Goldsworthy ponders at one moment. Of course he is. But while the movie occasionally gets lost in the meandering folds of the quietly loquacious artist’s ruminations, it remembers to keep the focus on the art itself. As such, Leaning Into the Wind doesn’t always make sense. But with views this beautiful, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

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