Loss and Repair
October 26, 2015
First, that book about my father that I’ve written about so often in this blog, Chasing Ghosts: A Memoir of a Father, Gone to War, has finally been published.
I’m housebound again for another illness. This time, it’s Lyme Disease. And it’s pretty much off to the doctor’s a few times a week for IV, resting and recovering at home, a few lunches out and family meals, and that’s about it.
It’s at times like these when I’m so very grateful for the fact that I can listen to broadcasts of Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” any time I choose instead of when I used to during my commute to Hunter College (I’d time my hour or more long commute around her show).
A few days ago I listened to her interview of the artist Andy Goldsworthy on the occasion of the release of his new book, Andy Goldsworthy: Ephemeral Works, 2004-2014 and an exhibit in NYC. If you don’t know Goldsworthy’s work, looking at a slide show on the NPR website will show you what its like. Goldsworthy works with nature, in nature, with natural materials, though his is not nostalgic “back to nature” work but a meditation on time, change, nature’s beauty, its implicit destruction, and how the hands of human beings have continually manipulated the natural landscape. You will see leaves chosen for their colors formed into concentric circles; bones placed inside a rotted tree; sticks and twigs arranged into fascinating structures placed in streams where they will inevitably be washed away. The only way to document the works that Goldsworthy often undertakes around his home in Scotland is to take photographs of them. This new book contains a range of a decade of his work.
There is something about Goldsworthy’s work that speaks to me. The fact that so much of it is private and ephemeral and initially and often viewed only by him (although neighboring farmers sometimes come upon him while he’s working) is very moving in this age of the artist/writer as self-aggrandizing public figure. For Goldsworthy, in the interview, states that his interest is in the making of the work. And that for him, a sense of loss and making art to deal with loss is key to his work. A tree dies; he’s known it for years; he’s bereft when he sees it; he witnesses the rot at its core. He feels intense pain at its loss, but he does something with that pain, not to make it go away, but to use it to create something beautiful. Each creation necessitates dealing with practical and logistical problems and although he doesn’t want a project to fail, and he does want to understand the nature of the material he’s using (even rain, which he uses when he lies down on the ground during a rainstorm, leaving a rain shadow—an outline of where his body has been), if he can’t complete the work, still, he’s learned much from doing it.
I write memoir. And perhaps I’m so drawn to Goldsworthy now because I’m embarked upon a project—a series of “requiems” for my sister who killed herself many years ago—that I’m not sure I’ll ever publish, that I’m not sure I can or will finish although I know I shall try. Still, there is something, now, so immensely satisfying with just being with the material, just doing the work, just returning to it day by day by day for the less than an hour that I have the energy to work that is immensely satisfying. And I realize that much of my work is impelled by loss, as I think most memoir is. Years ago I read a book by Andrew Brink called Loss and Symbolic Repair, which described a creative response to loss and grief as one of the major functions of, art making. It’s true for me, as it is for Goldsworthy.
And at the end of a day’s work—or to be more accurate, an hour’s work—it is immensely satisfying to me to pause and look at a photo gallery of Goldsworthy’s work.