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The incredible and often ephemeral work of sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is deservedly legendary. Goldsworthy uses geometric shapes like spheres, spirals, squares, and circles, as well as archeological structures like cairns and arches, to create mind-blowing works out of, say, leaves of grass, rowanberries, intertidal sand, icicles, sticks. Goldsworthy’s interest in natural elements and materials lends itself to a study of time, decay, climate, and season. As his pieces are frequently melted, blown away, washed away, or eaten by wildlife, photography and film have been important throughout his career as a means to document both the process of creation as well as the way the work weathers after Goldsworthy is finished with it.

The Arches NZ, Gibbs Farm (2005) Photo Credit: Murray Robinson

Years ago, Andy Goldsworthy created a site-specific work for Gibbs Farm in New Zealand where I have done some work. The Arches (NZ) is a series of eleven freestanding stone arches marching to sea, and it somehow reminds one of the Loch Ness monster. The sandstone hails from a quarry near Goldsworthy’s home in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, which was also the home of art patron Alan Gibbs’ ancestors prior to their emigration to New Zealand. The Arches are held together by nothing but gravity and the principle of a perfectly-designed keystone, although very sturdy foundations were built to support them permanently. When I visited Gibbs Farm to film for the New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor and Lightning Dreams: The Electrum documentaries I finally got to experience The Arches for myself. The work is at once natural and man-made, complementing its environment while being shaped by it. The work is dynamic and constantly changing depending on the season, water level, tides, light, and time of day. It seems to provide a framework or lens through which one can observe nature with heightened appreciation.

The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, located (near us!) in Lincoln, MA, has been working with Goldsworthy since 2009 to commission a permanent outdoor sculpture for their collection. The Artist proposes to build the sculpture Snow House. To support the proposal, the DeCordova ran an exhibition of photographs and films of Goldsworthy’s other work with ice and snow, as well as frequent screenings of the brilliant documentary film Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time. The museum has just recently celebrated the completion of this capital fundraising campaign and is moving forward with planning the installation.

Goldsworthy’s Snow House sculpture will be built into the bank of a lake, and it is modelled after historical structures which were used to preserve through the summer ice cut from local ponds. Into this structure a large snowball will be placed. Each summer, the structure will be opened to reveal what is left of the snowball, which will eventually melt once exposed. Then, once winter comes again, the staff of the DeCordova and community members will build another snowball from the first significant snowfall of the year, which will be closed in the structure to repeat the process the following year. This cycle of permanence, degeneration, and interactivity brings several different issues to the fore: a relationship with the seasons, a potential attendance to the effects of climate change, historical processes of ice-cutting and preservation, the passage of time, and a reliance on both the natural world and the community to perpetuate the cycle of artistic creation.

Much of Goldsworthy’s work to date with ice and snow has been extremely temporary. It will be fascinating, then, to see how Snow House plays across both permanence and cyclical decay. For instance, Goldsworthy frequently lies down just as it begins to rain or snow, creating rain and frost shadows which last long enough to be photographed and immediately appreciated before disappearing. Likewise, he has held his hand against thin, spring ice, melting away a handprint in the sheet before the sheet itself disappears with the sun. Some works depend on the melting away of snow or ice for their gradual effect: like snow heaped into a line in a field and left to thaw slowly; snow balls stained with dye from beech nuts, thawed on paper, and dried, leaving pools of stain on the paper; snowballs brought indoors (for instance at the Old Museum of Transport, Glasgow) or placed on display outdoors during summer (in London); and, finally, snow slabs, carved to let the light shine through before they melt in the sun.

The science behind Goldsworthy’s work and techniques is in many ways more intuitive than exact. Though Goldsworthy rarely talks specifically about the science or math underlying his work, his father was a mathematics professor, and his brother, with whom he lived, studied a biology course at university. In his works, Goldsworthy uses natural materials, works with colors and shapes found in nature and in the landscape which surrounds him, and relies on time and decay to add to as well as detract from the shapes and images he leaves behind. Sand sculptures rely on the relentless tide for timing, excitement, and erosion. Patterns of leaves and sticks on river or stream surfaces are pulled by the current to create only vaguely-predictable visual delights. The fact that Goldsworthy returns time and again to similar structures, patterns, and shapes, as well as materials, shows a (perhaps unconscious) alignment with practices of experimentation and redesign familiar to scientific researchers.

Part of Goldsworthy’s process involves a familiarity with space and terrain, with the entire environment of the place he has chosen to work. This includes local and available materials, histories, and seasons. He often explains that he discovers and develops the work through the materials available as they exist on the day; spending more time in a space allows him to deepen his relationship and build on previous work done there. Goldsworthy was invited to visit the DeCordova Sculpture Park during the winter of 2010. Through research and subsequent visits, he developed the project which he then proposed. For the DeCordova piece, he incorporates the changing season into his design, along with historical structures, and historical uses of natural materials like ice and lake landscapes.

We now look forward to the chance to closely observe and perhaps experience the development and creation of a Goldsworthy sculpture at the DeCordova Museum. We are ridiculously excited to welcome this permanent-ish work from Goldsworthy to our neighborhood, and can’t wait to watch as he builds it, and as it melts, shifts, and regenerates each season.

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Stay tuned to ASKlabs blog for upcoming posts on the (Harold “Doc”) Edgerton Center at MIT, as well as coverage of the grand re-opening of the SF Exploratorium Museum by a special guest blogger!

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