Sunday, July 26, 2015

365 True Things: 118/Art (7/25/15)

Today we went to San Francisco to spend the day with more old friends (cf. post #110)—these two even older: I've known Tom since, I don't know, 1973? He was a French horn player then, spent his working career as a piano tuner, and now builds vintage keyboard instruments, as well as (we learned today) beautiful folk harps and hurdy-gurdies. His Australia-born, Hawaii-raised wife, Michele, is a beloved high school music teacher, violist, and one of the most positive-spirited people I know. They both also do Scottish dancing—and so much more. It was wonderful to reconnect with them, after a gap of over two years.

Wood Line
But today I want to write about what we spent the day doing, which was: visit four environmental art installations by Andy Goldsworthy in the San Francisco Presidio.

I first learned about the Yorkshire native, now Scotland resident, Goldsworthy (b. 1956) from books: A Collaboration with Nature (1990) and Wood (1996). I would sit for hours and devour the photos, documents of some of the work he's done with natural, often ephemeral, materials such as leaves, rock, snow, and ice. Then there was a documentary about him, Rivers and Tides—one of the very few DVDs I actually own. The beginning words: "Art for me is a form of nourishment. I need the land. I need it." Art and the land get mixed up both in these words and in his work, in such a beautiful way.

Over the years, I've seen his work in person in Glasgow, Washington DC, and at San Francisco's De Young Museum, a fabulous piece called "Drawn Stone" that accompanies you as you enter the museum.

I'd heard that he had four site-specific works in the Presidio, which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and suggested that we try to find them—an outing! And Tom and Michele hadn't known about them, so even better!

The only problem was, Michele has a broken foot and is on crutches. But we figured we'd see what we could, and she was game to wait in the car when necessary. (Positive spirit, remember.)

We found them easily. Three ("Wood Line," "Tree Fall," and "Earth Wall") involved eucalyptus trees, one ("Spire") Monterey cypress, all historic trees that were being culled for various reasons.

Tree Fall
The installations are variously impermanent: in the case of "Spire" (2008)—15 feet wide at its base and stretching 100 feet high, made of 37 tree trunks—seedling cypresses have been planted all around and will eventually grow up to engulf the piece; the gum trees that form "Wood Line" (2011), a 1,200-foot winding line of eucalypt trunks, will deteriorate over time, as deadwood does. "Tree Fall," a sculpture that combines a single tree and the ceiling of a historic gun powder magazine, both covered in straw and mud, may or may not last: it's a sort of experiment. Over the two years it's been in place, the mud has cracked and changed color, and continues to evolve.

Earth Wall

"Earth Wall," the most recent, completed in 2014, is perhaps the most permanent of the four sculptures—and to my mind, perhaps the most interesting (a tie with "Tree Fall," really). It comprises bent eucalyptus branches that were assembled into a sculpture attached to a wall of the Presidio Officers' Club; encased in a new, rammed-earth wall; then carefully excavated.

A bunch of years ago, I took an art class on color at the local college. Color theory, color harmony, color meaning, color play. For one of the assignments, I borrowed from a Goldsworthy piece—a boulder wrapped in red poppy petals ☞ —and created an oversized ice cube covered in California poppy petals. I then took the orange ice to the beach, placed it at the intersection of sand and sea, and photographed it as it melted, returned to petals, and dissolved into/floated out into the Pacific.

I think Andy Goldsworthy is an amazing obsessive. I think I might be afraid of obsession. Of losing myself in something I love so much. But he gets results. Maybe obsession isn't such a bad thing—if directed well.

If you're interested in seeing more about Goldsworthy's Presidio installations, including videos, go to

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