Leaning into the Wind — Andy Goldsworthy: Interview with Filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer
As Leaning into the Wind, Thomas Riedelsheimer’s second movie on Andy Goldsworthy’s work, is being released, Sculpture Nature has asked him a few questions on his encounter with the Scottish artist, their collaboration and the difficulty of capturing time and art as it is being made.
Sculpture Nature: In 2001 you released Rivers and Tides, your first documentary about Andy Goldsworthy’s work. A box office and critical success at the time and, to this day, an essential film for all art lovers, this portrait was, for many of us, a first encounter with the seminal Scottish artist and his unique creative process—his approach to art, nature and life. Next March, seventeen years later, you are releasing Leaning into the Wind, a second opus on Andy Goldsworthy. Why did you decide to make a second documentary on his work?
Thomas Riedelsheimer: I haven’t seen Andy for at least 13 years after we finished Rivers and Tides. He was not totally happy with the film at that time but more than that he is not a type of socializing person anyway. Some years ago we finally met in Scotland and this has been a great experience. Even though we didn’t have contact for such a long time, being with him felt very familiar, inspiring and immediately intriguing. I realized that I was not done with that artist and probably never will be. Some weeks after that meeting both of us admitted that we were thinking about the possibility of making another film together. Of course we were reluctant because of the enormous popularity of Rivers and Tides. We didn’t want a sequel, a “return” of Andy Goldsworthy. We wanted a new film that stands for itself; that works without knowing the old one. A film with another focus. It took us a while to finally go for it.
ScNa: Andy Goldsworthy works with elements of nature—ice, rivers and water flows, stones, leaves, branches and twigs—but also with time: his works are ephemeral, often meant to disappear, always changing. The magic in Rivers and Tides came from your ability, as a director, to yield to this creative process, somehow to mimic it and as a result not only to show but also to make us feel how art, nature and time were intertwined in Goldsworthy’s art. Did you approach this new documentary and the works it features differently? How do the two documentaries relate to each other? Would you say that Leaning into the Wind is a “sequel” or does it stand independently from Rivers and Tides?
TR: I would hope that Leaning into the Wind is not seen as a sequel but standing for itself. Of course there are many links. Andy is still Andy. People do not change completely within 15 years so I was looking for a different emphasis. While in Rivers and Tides Andy is shown pretty much alone, struggling with natural forces and doing mostly very ephemeral and delicate work, with this new film I got interested in his social side. Dealing with people, with his team, working on big projects that include also logistics and machinery and artwork that you could call permanent. On the other hand he started to use his body in his art and by doing so it got a performative quality and in that respect became even more transient than his former works. This was also very interesting to me. And finally with Holly, his daughter, working for him and Felix, my son, working with me we realized how much the flow of time became palpable and this was another entry into one of his favorite topics.
ScNa: In Leaning into the Wind we discover several of Andy Goldsworthy’s recent projects across the world (Scotland, France, United States…), some of which are ephemeral (like his works with the petals on the streets or on the rivers), some others still visible (like his famous cairns). How did you choose the projects featured in the documentary? Was that choice made in collaboration with the artist?
TR: Of course I was happy to discuss with Andy what projects could be part of the film. He is full of ideas and always eager to try things. The ephemeral stuff mostly happened without much planning. For me it was important to keep that fresh and improvised approach. Like when Andy was shaking the tree with the yellow pollen. On the other hand we wanted projects, machinery and the profound materiality of stone. Some of Andy’s projects dig into the earth, under the skin and are quite “dark” in their feel. We wanted those poles.
ScNa: How much time did it take to collect the shooting material? How did you work with Andy Goldsworthy during that time? How involved was he in the postproduction process?
TR: Andy was not involved in postproduction. I showed him the film when it was nearly finished in a cinema in Edinburgh. It was an exciting and even frightening day for me, but it all went super smooth. I was very happy that he liked what I did. The material was collected over the course of three years. I started shooting when we didn’t even have a project yet. I always do that. Once I got interested in something I start carrying a camera with me and do things. This helps me to tune in and understand what I am searching for.
ScNa: For the soundscape of the documentary, you called on musician and composer Fred Frith, who had already composed the soundtrack for Rivers and Tides. Why and how did you work with him? How relevant are the music and the soundscape in the documentary? Did you give him instructions or did he work independently?
TR: Since I worked with percussionist Evelyn Glennie on Touch the Sound, I consider soundtrack and music as essential for a film and I while editing I love working with sound. It always has been hard for me to imagine music with Andy’s work. Everything I came up with for Rivers and Tides didn’t feel right. Finally we got in touch with Fred. The way he perceived these two films and the way he talked about his ideas was just convincing. He is a great musician and a wonderful human being. It is the third film we did together now. Basically we run through the rough cut together, we talk about very general ideas and then he walks off and does his composing. We meet again in the studio some weeks later and the tracks are recorded. It is a fascinating moment because Fred has this clear idea but still this talent in improvising, changing things on the spot, staying in a creative flow. I basically sit there gaping with mouth open and enjoy what’s happening.
ScNa: You have directed several documentaries about artists, and notably artists whose works deal with natural elements, landscape or soundscape: Garden in the Sea was following the incredible adventure of Cristina Iglesias’ site specific installation in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, Breathing Earth explored Susumu Shingu’s wind sculptures and Touch the Sound looked at how Evelyn Glennie captured and interpreted her surroundings through another medium, another sense: sound and music. What is it that interests you in those approaches? How do they feed or influence your own practice and vision? What do you think that film, as a medium, can bring to these very specific relationships to the world?
TR: That is a question too complex to answer. Of course I am very much influenced by what I do. Especially Andy has changed my way of looking at the world a lot. Even the way I am looking at filmmaking. A short line like “total control can be the death of a (art) work” resonates for a long time and is so true also for filmmaking. And then of course the whole nature aspect and the mystery, beauty and magic in nature. I guess film as a medium can transport part of that. It can give a sensual, emotional experience rather than an explanation. This is at least what I am striving for. I am interested in the big screen, in the cinema as a place to seduce people and take them with you. And of course I am fascinated by people who choose art as their way to understand the world and themselves.
ScNa: Because of the nature of some of Andy Goldsworthy’s works, often what is only left of his installations and performances is documentation—photos, videos, texts. Paradoxically, filming the fleeting nature of the artist’s interventions, you allow for them to be seen as they are created and to remain visible and last, somehow defying their transience and transforming them. So much so that one could be tempted to say that your films are an integral part of Goldsworthy’s works or more precisely, that the works become yours as well, a sort of collaborative piece. Are you confortable with this idea?
TR: Nice thought. I think the film definitely is a collaboration. But to be clear, Andy does not need me to do his art. It does not need to be filmed to become art. By filming it we turn it into something new, which involves the medium, me, the space it is shown in, and the audience. There is another form of dialogue happening, which I like a lot. But being at the spot when a green line of leaves is dancing down a river stream and by doing so is representing the whole flow of life in a single moment and movement is just incredible and cannot be recorded. It happens in that very instant and all recordings, even our memory, are mere interpretations of that event. As René Magritte put it: “An image is not reality”.
Leaning into the Wind – Andy Goldsworthy, a documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer, Music by Fred Frith, 92 minutes, Germany, 2016.