Interview with Andy Goldsworthy
Last week, British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy was on The
Scripps Research Institute campus to install his work "Oak
Cairn, "commissioned in memory of immunologist William O.
Wiegle (1927-2001). News&Views caught up with Goldsworthy
on the third day of the four-day process of installing the
News&Views: How do you decide which piece of wood
Andy Goldsworthy: I want the pieces to knit together,
to lie well on previous branches, and to tie into the middle
of the structure. I'm using the shapes of the branches, the
nature of the branches, to build the sculpture's curvature.
N&V: I noticed that you placed that large log in
the middle. Do you like it there?
Goldsworthy: Yes, I do. There's something very strong
about thatand a little bit threatening. It leads to
the questions, "How is that held together?" and "Will it collapse
if I touch it?" In fact, the sculpture is very strong. I can
easily walk up it.
N&V: You built this sculpture once before for last
summer's exhibit in the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Was the sculpture different then?
Goldsworthy: I am trying to make this one better.
This morning someone brought a photograph of the piece when
it was in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The sculpture here
is so much stronger visuallyso much better, it's unbelievable.
One of the reasons for repeating a work is to improve on it,
so you can extract more energy out of it. At the point where
I can't make improvements, I don't make another one.
N&V: This is part of a series of cairns you have
built in different parts of the country, right?
Goldsworthy: Yes. The things I've been able to do
with that form because of what I've done previously have been
extraordinary for me. So, it's not mere repetition. It is
a journey that a particular form and idea takes. I think this
form may have reached the end. Creating the piece here after
working on the East Coast brought me to a feeling of conclusion.
I haven't felt the urge to make another cairn. Not to say
I won't. But for the moment I feel it has reached a plateau
and I really have no need to make that form again.
N&V: In what direction did your cairns evolve?
Goldsworthy: The shape. If you look at the photograph
of this one compared to the one in the museum, this shape
has much more light about it. The base, particularly, is very
rounded. It's not perfectgetting it perfect is almost
impossiblebut it sits beautifully. The shape makes it
very proud. It's quite happy. It has a real sense of liking
being here. The one in the museum was squat by comparison
and didn't have the same contact with the ground. Being in
the museum, I made it hit the ceiling and feel compressed
by that space. Whereas this one has been liberated into the
outdoors. And that fell to the form.
N&V: Your sculpture seems to be part of the cycle
of nature. The tree started with seeds scattered to the winds.
The tree grew. And its limbs fell to the ground. You picked
up the branches in Scotland, arranged for them to be flown
here, and put them on the ground again. Is the cycle now complete?
Goldsworthy: That cycle is important. The way I make
a piece is very close to the process of growth. The sculpture
grows in the place. It is not fabricated elsewhere. It is
not made into components that are fabricated elsewhere. As
you've seen, building it is a process of growthlog by
log, piece by piece, cell by cell. To say that the cycle has
reached its finish is perhaps wrong. Maybe it is in as finished
a state as the tree was. Eventually, despite all the efforts
at preservation, there will come a point when it decaysas
with everything, including the buildings surrounding here.
I don't know how long this will take. But for this momentfor
a long whileit will hang in that space.
N&V: Can you compare what you do with what the scientists
Goldsworthy: It was fascinating talking with Art
Olson [Scripps Research professor of Molecular Biology]. I
asked him why scientists had to make models of molecules.
His answer was that you have to have it in your hand to understand
it. I think that the engagement of the hand and the mind is
still needed in this age of technology. The parallel for me
is I desperately need to touch my work. It's the rationale
behind the art. I don't understand if I don't touch it. It
can't be done as something distant on a computer screen.
N&V: Yet conceptualizing the piece is a different
type of process...
Goldsworthy: I try to create the atmosphere, the
space for the hands-on work. This is difficult. You never
know quite how the art is going to marry with the site. This
particular site, which I found, is a difficult place to make
a work. There is a lot going on, a lot of activity. It calls
for a piece that feels like it belongs there, but which is
also self-contained. This site is interesting because of the
connection between the two buildings, which implies a journey
and activity between the two. The ancient form of the cairn
is about a journey, the marking of a passage. In addition,
this is a social space, a place where people will congregate.
I will probably organize seating in the area. I'm very, very
pleased with how the arrangement of the site worked.
N&V: What is your next project after this?
Goldsworthy: I'm going to Tennessee to look at a
quarry for a project at the National Gallery in Washington,
where I've been asked to make a proposal. I want to see the
stone where the National Gallery building came from as a possible
starting point for the exhibition. Then, next Friday, I get
back to Scotland. I'll collect stones from a beach for a roof
garden installation at the Metropolitan Museum, which will
be a marriage of Scottish stone and American wood.