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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

time and again

Andy Goldsworthy. Roof (detail). Stacked slate.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 2005.
Photo by Thom Watson.

Last summer, I visited the ancient Irish sites of Knowth and Newgrange. There, the cluster of mounded “passage tombs” seemed almost like a natural part of the landscape, like they had grown there, or been put in place by once-upon-a-time geological forces. In fact they were built, stone upon stone, over 6000 years ago; built as shelters for the ashes and the souls of loved ones. As a place to belong to and a path to follow after death; both home and starting point for the journey, both resting place and threshold.  

More recently, I’ve been looking (again) at the work of Scottish artist, Andy Goldsworthy. His love for stone, his passion for the techniques and the labour that birthed the fences and the walls, the cairns and the structures of the ancients, is played out time and again in his very contemporary art; creating new poems in the ancient languages of stone.

Goldsworthy's 2005 work, Roof, is a cluster of corbelled vaults built out of stacked slate inside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Each is constructed in the same way as the mounds at Knowth or the tholos tombs of ancient Greece; as the trulli of the boot heel of Italy; as the arches at the Mayan site of Copan or at Angkor Thom in Cambodia; as the igloos of the Arctic. In Goldsworthy’s domes, however, a circular hole has been left at the top; an oculus, an opening, an eye. A way in or a way out. A passage.

Roof references home and shelter, but it also reprises a recurring theme in Goldsworthy’s work; that of the hole. He understands this work from the inside out, as a collection of voids: the absences that shape the presence, the emptiness that fills the spaces. As invisible and as formative as time.

“I used to say I will make no more holes,” he writes. “Now I know that I will always make them. I am drawn to them with the same urge I have to look over a cliff edge. It is possible that the last work I make will be a hole.”*

*Andy Goldsworthy, in Hand to Earth, page 24.

Andy Goldsworthy.  Roof. 2005
Newgrange, reconstructed passage tomb, County Meath, Ireland.
Constructed in approximately 4000 BCE.

Knowth. Ancient Irish passage tombs, County Meath, Ireland.
Approximately 4000 BCE.

Tomb at Knowth.

For more on Andy Goldsworthy, see this post. Or this one.

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