Photo: Andy Goldsworthy from StudioGQ
When British artist Andy Goldsworthy first visited San Francisco’s Presidio in 2006, what intrigued him was the tension between the park’s natural beauty and the human hand that shaped the landscape. People leave a presence in a place, he says, even when they are no longer there. This is especially true in the Presidio. The U.S. Army first occupied what were once sandy hills in 1848. When it closed the post over a century later, it left behind a historic 300-acre forest of pine, eucalyptus and cypress.
Goldsworthy’s installations deepen this human connection. Each time he returns to the Presidio he adds another layer that will grow and decay with time. His four works—Spire, Wood Line, Tree Fall and Earth Wall—created between 2008 and 2014 make up the largest collection of Goldsworthy works on public view in North America.
Goldsworthy, who usually works in rural settings, uses landscape as his medium. Time and nature are central to his work: leaves decompose, winds disperse, icicles melt, tides recede. Using materials found on site, such as flower petals, stones, snow or in the case of the Presidio, tree trunks, he explores the idea that nothing can or should last forever, seeking connections between what we call nature and what we call man-made.
With each new Presidio installation, Goldsworthy sinks deeper into time and into the ground of the place. He expands his understanding of the landscape by using the Army’s forest to leave his own temporary imprint.
“Even though things go from sight, they don’t disappear from the feel of the place. Ultimately that’s really the richness.” Andy Goldsworthy, Earth Wall
Below we detail all four installations.
Towering over the viewer, Spire stretches vertically into space. Constructed of 15,000 pounds of felled Monterey cypress trunks, it rises up 100 feet into the air like the Transamerica Pyramid. Its massive fifteen-foot wide base is rooted deeply into the ground. Today, Spire dwarfs its surroundings. In time, its prominence will fade as newly planted cypress seedlings mature around it.
“It feels as if it is coming from deep in the ground…when the new trees grow up around it, this will be a very intimate, internal place.” Andy Goldsworthy, San Francisco Chronicle
Photo: Spire from For-Site Foundation.
Following a natural opening within a eucalyptus grove where a row of cypress had died, Wood Line explores the earth’s surface by drawing the land. Goldsworthy laid stripped eucalyptus trunks end to end to form a snaking line that meanders some 1000 feet down a slope. A cathedral of living eucalyptus forms a container that holds this drawing, allowing those who walk within to feel enveloped and held. With time, as people clamber along Wood Line, it will slowly erode adding yet another human layer to the landscape’s story.
“It’s not just about drawing a line in the ground but seeing how its surface changes over time.” Andy Goldsworthy, New York Times
Photo: Wood Line from For-Site Foundation.
“Tree Fall is the root structure of the forest.” Andy Goldsworthy, San Francisco Chronicle
In the historic Powder Magazine, which originally stored munitions and more recently held blanks for the evening gun salute, Goldsworthy explores the idea of a tree. Walking into the tiny building with thick stonewalls feels very subterranean, the only illumination filtering in from the door. Looking up, one sees a tree suspended from the domed roof. The tree and ceiling are caked with clay made of Presidio dirt that has dried and cracked into a puzzle-piece bark. The overhead tree with human-made bark turns the notion of root and canopy upside down, making the familiar new.
“The human element in the Presidio is critical to how I think about the place. My touch is an expression of the human presence…What we’re doing now is laying down another layer.” Andy Goldsworthy, Earth Wall
Photo: Tree Fall from For-Site Foundation.
“[Earth Wall] has opened a whole new area of thinking about my work. It’s going to have a profound effect on what I do. And in that respect, if this work had not happened then it would have been a big hole in my work. It’s a very significant piece.” Andy Goldsworthy, Earth Wall
Goldsworthy digs deeper underground in his most recent installation, Earth Wall, completed in 2014. For this work, he stripped gnarly eucalyptus branches forming them into a sphere affixed to a concrete wall inside the courtyard of the Presidio Officers’ Club. He then covered the entire work in a rammed earth wall, intending to dig out the twisted mass. “I wanted the sense of finding it and having to fight for it,” he says.
Earth Wall goes beyond surface appearance to the very root—or core—of the tree. While it is his most recent work, in some ways it is where his Presidio works all begin. Trees don’t stop at the surface of the ground, he notes. They dig deep into the core. Earth Wall honors what’s happening under the surface; contact with earth is where life really begins. “I’m digging deeper in both the things I’ve made, but also conceptually and my understanding of the Presidio.” Andy Goldsworthy, Earth Wall
Photo: Earth Wall from DryStoneGarden.
Click here for a video on Earth Wall, Andy Goldsworthy
Click here for Goldsworthy in the Presidio
Meg B. Holden writes and makes her home in Portland, Oregon.