It’s an odd sight to see Andy Goldsworthy in semi-formal attire — sport coat and dark pants — as he sits perfectly still, like a statue, in a crowded indoor theater.
But that was Goldsworthy, who lives in Scotland, on a recent San Francisco night. He wasn’t cutting stones, as he likes to do for his art projects, nor was he sculpting trees with buzz saws nor wading through water in boots and outdoor gear. Nope. Goldsworthy was inside the Presidio’s Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center — a pilgrimage site for fans of George Lucas’ Star Wars spectacle — watching himself on the big screen in the new documentary Leaning Into the Wind, a sequel to the acclaimed 2001 box-office hit Rivers and Tides.
That earlier movie helped make Goldsworthy an artist of international repute, and linked his work inextricably with natural settings. Lots of people have the impression that nature’s tranquil “beauty” is the primary motivation behind Goldsworthy’s art. Goldsworthy hates that idea. After the screening, when Goldsworthy extricated himself from his middle-row seat and took a seat on the stage, he said that relaxing in nature “is the last thing I do.”
“I feel tremendous angst before I make anything,” Goldsworthy said at the invitation-only event, which was sponsored by the FOR-SITE Foundation. “My work is about change. … I’m trying to understand the world around me, my place [in it], and my passage through.”
Goldsworthy’s passages have taken him many times through the Presidio, where his large-scale projects invite people to climb atop and walk (Wood Line, a 1,200-foot-long sculpture made of eucalyptus branches), look up and marvel (Spire, a 100-foot-tall work made of 37 Monterey cypress trunks), and enter a space where a cracked tree looms overhead like da Vinci’s work at the Sistine Chapel (Tree Fall).
In an increasingly digital world, Goldsworthy is a master of the analogue. But Goldsworthy is also a master of the digital. He filmed many of the scenes that director Thomas Riedelsheimer amalgamated for Leaning Into the Wind. And he’s an ambitious photographer, too. His latest exhibit at Haines Gallery is a collection of photos and videos. Goldsworthy turns the lenses on himself with a clarity of purpose.
In the photo called Kelp thrown into a grey, overcast sky. Drakes Beach, California. 14 July 2013, Goldsworthy tosses rope-like seaweed onto the sand at Point Reyes National Seashore. In the video work called Pass. Dumfriesshire, Scotland. February, March 2016, Goldsworthy stands like a scarecrow in the center of a large tree that’s part of a hilly green space. The tree — and Goldsworthy — about a two-lane roadway. (The scene is one the highlights of Leaning Into the Wind.)
The Haines exhibit’s title, “Andy Goldsworthy: Drawing Water Standing Still,” references the way Goldsworthy forces himself to remain still in that Scottish tree. Amid those limbs, he could fall at any moment. He scales heights to test himself, to put himself in a temporary state of balance and imbalance. In Leaning Into the Wind, Goldsworthy falls back from the gale force of winds that he’s deliberated fighting. He gets up and falls down again. Goldsworthy’s Presidio work Wood Line invites people to experience a version of this off-the-beaten-path wandering. He doesn’t like staying in one place for too long.
“I think that’s the beauty of art,” he says in Leaning Into the Wind. “It just makes you step aside off the normal way of walking or looking.”
“Andy Goldsworthy: Drawing Water Standing Still”
June 1 to July 29 at Haines Gallery, 49 Geary St. Free; 415-397-8114 or hainesgallery.com