Andy Goldsworthy

Wall

“I take seriously the responsibility of leaving behind something that will last a long time.”

British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (b. 1956) wields natural elements: ice, wood, stone, sand, wind to create pieces that call attention to landscapes. He constructs permanent and ephemeral works. The latter to push boundaries through experimentation, the former to create pieces that will endure and change.

The wall is one of Goldsworthy’s most recognized and studied figures. In 1989 Goldsworthy constructed the “Wall that Went for a Walk” in his native Cumbria, a serpentine wall that hugs and encloses the landscape.

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Grizedale Wall, Cumbria, 1990. “There is tension between the trees and the wall. It will not remain as it is now.” Photograph by Andy Goldsworthy.

A decade later, he built a similar dry-stone sculpture “Storm King Wall” in New York. The undertaking is captured in Wall. The experience inspired Goldsworthy to reflect on the difference between American and English concepts of “walls.”

The nostalgic view of walls is a very American view because most of them have disappeared here. I still see walls as a vigorous and growing part of the landscape. I bring wallers with me from England and Scotland whose idea of a wall is work, and the idea of work is very important because it makes a strong link to agriculture.

[…]

I think the main difference between a design process and a sculptural process is that the latter is close to the way things grow. The large things I make don’t arrive large as much American sculpture seems to have. The way my walls are made, stone upon stone, is like growth.

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth once discussed why she was drawn to carving rather than modelling. She preferred work that extracted rather than formed. Goldsworthy’s sculpture – formed by adding piece by careful, considered piece – adds another dimension to this estimable art form.

At its heart, Goldsworthy’s Wall is a dialogue of stone and wood, how the materials support or destroy each other. It is a study of how walls are built a piece at a time – culminating in a whole that is different from the parts.

Above all, it is a demonstration of Goldsworthy’s attempt to capture in a wall what he feels from the stones: “I feel a powerful sense of flow and movement in stone – whether it has been shifted by geological forces or by people.” A powerful connectivity between material and sculpture which renders both the building and the decaying important.

The wall is not an object to be preserved in the traditional sense of art conservation. It is at the beginning of its life. What kind of life it has will depend on what happens to it. It has many possibilities.

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Storm King Wall, New York, 1997. “The most compressed part of the wall, where the trees grow closest together, is the heart of the sculpture, and the place where there is the most tension.” Photograph by Andy Goldsworthy.

Goldsworthy’s body of work, spanning more than 40 years, represents change, support and tension, trails and paths, and the connectedness of humans and nature.

“Sculpture can take on the quality of a design in the landscape,” he writes in Wall, “and I make works that function at that level.” The entwined cores of nature and man is a constant thread in the sublime poetry of Wendell Berry, an American who writes of nature’s deep connectedness to humankind.

Goldsworthy’s sculptural interest in walls, in particular, grows not only from the strong history of agricultural walls in England but also from an interest in things that self-delineate. A concept observed by poet Thomas A. Clark who considered walking our natural form of self-delineation. Goldsworthy sees the wall similarly.

The final destination of this wall was not known in the beginning. I enjoy a sculpture that has this sense of discovery and journey about it. Not knowing the final form or line at the beginning added richness to its making.

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Grizedale Wall, Cumbria, 1997. “Inevitably, the trees will cause the wall’s collapse…because of the shear size of their trunks or because they are uprooted and crash on to it.” Photograph by Andy Goldsworthy.

On the relationship between humans and landscape pick up any of Robert Macfarlane’s vital studies of the way we interact and connect with the space around us. Using Goldsworthy’s work as text, my What is a Wall? peers deeper into interpretations of this form that is so common and yet quite rich.