Any in depth exploration into the connection between hands and walling would have to include a section on Andy Goldsworthy. The stunningly beautiful and uniquely impressive body of work he has created and documented so well continues to be a powerfuly positive influence on everyone who comes in contact with his work. His energy and output is a testament to a seemingly relentless drive to push the envelope of the creative process. While a lot of his installations are not permanent, many of his dry stone pieces are. And while some might quibble whether his work fits into the category of art at all, there are many others of us who think he just might be the most significant living artist today.
Having said that, it surprises me how often I run into people who have never heard of him. It is always a treat then to have the opportunity to introduce them to his amazing work.
Yesterday Mary and I were hiking in Cumbria from The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Little Langdale to Coniston. We were being shown many of the more interesting and historic dry stone walls as well as abandoned stone quarries in the area along the way. I wonder if you can imagine how exciting it was for us to come around the corner from Tilberthwaite to discover one of Goldsworthy's famous sheepfold installations situated unobtrusibvely off to the side of the road. Our friend and guide Gavin Rose very cleverly made sure we 'stumbled' across it in our ramblings. There were no signs.
This sheepfold is one of many others which are part of a major countywide sculpture project created by Andy Goldsworthy. The project began in January 1996 as part of the UK year of Visual Arts and the building program continued until its official conclusion in April 2003 having achieved 46 folds.
The offical website explains that "Rather than making new sheepfolds Goldsworthy committed himself to working with existing folds in various states of disrepair or in some cases folds which had disappeared altogether but were clearly indicated on old maps. This enabled him to connect directly with the farming tradition and history of Cumbria but, at the same time, as each sheepfold was rebuilt so he invigorated them with a new energy by incorporating his sculptural response."
Andy and his colleagues (one of them being Andy Loudon) built the particular sheepfold we visited as a large squared-in area. The four traditional dry stone wall sides each contained an unusual large square section of thin slate each incorporating a four foot circle of the same slate material fitted so that the stones in each circle of each wall angled in four different orientations.
These circles are so tightly fitted you can't wiggle even the smallest of the thin slate pieces. The structure invites you to touch it and try. As with so many of the beautiful older slate walls (examples of what could also be considerd artist's handiwork) that we had been seeing all day on our walk through Cumbria, there was no sign anywhere that said 'Work of Art by so and so' or 'Please Dont Touch'. I was reminded again about this connection there is between 'hands' and 'dry stone walls'. It was this 'touchstone fold' structure that made me realize that it is not just those who create them but those who come to discover and appreciate beautiful dry stone walls (found in so many 'handy' places throughout parts of Britain) who also are drawn to touch the stones with their hands.
I am a person who builds dry stone walls and bridges and thinks a lot about how to get other people discovering what a satisfying occupation it can be. I am founder and president of Dry Stone Walling Across Canada www.dswa.ca and an avid supporter of the idea of sharing knowledge freely and learning from others.