ANDY GOLDSWORTHY'S art borders on the religious. And we should all belong to his church.
In Thomas Riedelsheimer's eloquently simple and direct documentary "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time," we watch Goldsworthy at work. And what work it is. A resident of Penpont, Scotland, which amounts to a great, craggy studio, he spends his days paying close, patient and almost relentlessly devoted attention to nature's mystical rhythms, structures and laws. What takes this sacred regard into the realm of high art is what the Scottish environmental artist creates: temporary structures made out of nature itself, which he then leaves for nature to reclaim or transform into something else.
With found rocks and slates he builds Druid-like structures that resemble giant pine cones; he does the same to create serpentine-shaped walls that are miles long. He makes whirlpool-like structures of driftwood just in time for the rising tide to wash it away. He plucks yellow flowers, then fills a small tidal pool with them, the result being a striking, beautiful, soft-textured yellow highlight on a rugged cliffscape. He is fascinated by the shapeliness and the regularity of those curvy shapes found everywhere, whether in oxbow rivers or the undulation of a "snake" made out of linked leaves that is left to float in a mountain stream.
He creates an inspired ice structure by picking shards of icicles, breaking them into the right shape, fine-carving the ends with his teeth and assembling another squiggly design onto a jutting rock. You notice how dirt-encrusted and slightly frozen his fingernails are as he works. He is fully engaged.
When the sun rises, the ice structure is gloriously illuminated. Against the dark mountain, the light is stunning. And then everything melts in the sunlight.
"The very thing that brings it to life," says Goldsworthy with more soft-spoken reverence than postmodern savviness, "is the thing that causes its death."
These "works" are both temporary and transcendental. To watch and appreciate them as he does is to undergo a transformation yourself. This kind of art puts you into a profound conversation with the glorious, uncompromising and mesmerizing flow of nature. It is the artistic equivalent of ancient ritual offerings to the gods, and it feels as pure and sublime.
The only "permanent" records Goldsworthy makes of these impulsive but methodically constructed creations are the slide photographs he takes. German filmmaker Riedelsheimer knows to eschew cinematic frills, as his subject is far too interesting. Watch this film. You may never look at nature indifferently again.
RIVERS AND TIDES: ANDY GOLDSWORTHY WORKING WITH TIME (Unrated, 90 minutes) -- Contains nothing objectionable except one mild obscenity. At Landmark Theatres Bethesda Row.