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The Thousand-fold Smile

“‘This,’ he said, handling it, ‘is a stone, and within a certain length of time it will perhaps be soil and from the soil it will become plant, animal or man... But now I think: this stone is stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything.’?
-Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

In Rivers and Tides, there is one motif that recurs throughout the film, one relevant pattern than Andy Goldsworthy finds and recreates wherever he goes, one particular form that governs the course of his work – and what is that form that pervades and permeates? – a lithe and curvaceous figuration that resembles the course of a meandering river. The figure can occur (that is, be made to occur by Goldsworthy) in the delicate arrangement icicles jutting from a rock, in autumn red leaves strung together and loosed in a rocky stream current, or in a stone wall that rises from the water, falls, rises again and falls to nothingness. The figure is Goldsworthy’s way to perfect naturally occurring phenomena; his way to consolidate, unify and manifest what he knows, what he feels instinctively to be the natural order of things. Furthermore, if we want to extrapolate and extend the significance of the figure, we might project the figure on the temporal dimension and conclude that Goldsworthy’s conception of time is nonlinear (or at least, to be a tad bit more practical, that they way in which our society advances through the ages is not strictly a matter of “forward? progress, but might fall back upon itself – the modern incidence of Classical architectural forms, for instance ), that time curves and sprawls, meeting itself, colliding, running parallel or perpendicular. Here we turn back to the opening quotation from Hesse’s Siddhartha – the concept that something is, in one moment, all that it ever has been and all that it ever will be – a river, we observe, flows simultaneously at its beginning and at its end. Goldsworthy, like Hesse, deals with this concept in terms of the the fluidity of the stone. In Goldsworthy’s case, he demonstrates this by breaking iron rich rocks into ochre pigment and throwing it into a river. We are left to envision the fine particles settling and reconstituting themselves, perhaps to be broken again. I term this concept the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence (sounds nice, right?). To simplify, this means that while our society and civilization continue to advance through time in a straightforward way (this is the continuity bit – we can’t literally question the linearity of time, unless of course we broach the theory of relativity, but that’s irrelevant to our immediate discussion, so we’ll skip it). Okay, so we’re piddling along through time, but we see an old edifice rung with columns (Ionic, let’s say), wrapped in a frieze, and topped with a pediment. This building can be regarded as a historical artifact, and its presence and continued influence in the here and now, coupled with our knowledge of its historical context, constitute a coincidence of past and present; the past informs the present (this is concurrence, though not quite like what Hesse means with the rock). The city (yes, I haven’t forgotten what I’m supposed to be writing about, though my path was circuitous and quite tenuous) materializes this notion of the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence. The city is comprised of ever-changing elements (people, buildings, etc.), but some inevitably endure and remain. From that which remains (or at least the knowledge of what the city once was, and, by the rule of Hesse’s stone, still is), that which is continuously forging new routes derives energy (I didn’t explicitly address flow and transformation, but I think these are implicit in what I’ve said).

In addition to the figure of a meandering river, there was another motif favored by Goldsworthy that I found to be especially poignant, that being the image – if it can be spoken of as an image – of a void. A perfectly blank, empty space – surrounded, perhaps, by vibrancy and color, but in itself totally devoid. This was his way of showing that any loss, no matter how acute, will soon be covered and overshadowed by those things we love and are grateful for. The void Goldsworthy created in the entanglement of tree roots is soon broken by the fresh green sprouts of spring, piercing the black like the upward thrust of a knight’s sword, vanquishing it. So too is whatever loss we suffer triumphed over. This has particular relevance, right here, right now in the city of Minneapolis, because as I draw my blinds and look out my window, I see, as it were, the northern end of a nonexistent bridge. A void. But (as can be seen in the attached photo), two sprouts have taken root and have broken through the winter’s snow. I speak of the two columns (growing more massive by the day) that have risen to pierce the void left by the collapse of the 35W bridge. And this, more than anything, demonstrates the fluidity of the stone. What has fallen shall be rebuilt. What has died shall be resurrected – the Phoenix rises from its ashes. And by willing ourselves forward in time, but living amongst the products of history, will come to recognize the simultaneity of continuity and concurrence. “He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead, he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces – hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha.? Or, in our case, our friend Minneapolis.