I say How do you get to the river? They say It will come. ~ J. Richardson, The Encyclopedia of the Stones: A Pastoral
Living by Raritan Bay can be staggeringly windy. The air currents charge off the water with such force that it’s not unusual for the houses here to shudder from their blasts. In colder weather the wind alone can be a deterrent to outside activity instead of the actual temperature as you can feel layers of skin cells being stripped from your face by relentless gusts. So when we had a rare fall Saturday afternoon with unruffled trees and a glassy bay, we decided to head to the beach where we knew the grains of sand would be calmly resting on the shore.
On a previous visit to Sandy Hook, Bop had arranged a structure of stones on a particular bay beach that had plenty of inspiring materials for similar projects so we decided to revisit that beach to take in the day while also seeing what Goldsworthy’s we could create there. Stones and rocks are prominently featured in Goldsworthy’s works, whether it be stacking stones into pyramid structures, adorning boulders with leaves, or arranging stones into shapes and patterns. Going to the beach we had that in the back of our minds but we didn’t have a fully formed idea of what we would be doing and instead decided to let the inspiration hit us once in the setting in true Goldsworthy form.
Goldsworthy’s work with stones
On our walk to the water, Bop and John, both of whom are big fans of sticks – one for art purposes, the other for little boy purposes – were finding various samples and would test their quality by dashing off some quick sand doodles which complimented the deer tracks we found along the way. Spotting these tracks on the beach always causes a blip in my city-raised mind that usually associates deer only with the woods. But where we live the woods and the coast are intertwined allowing for overlapping environments and thus even more opportunities to use different natural materials for projects across both settings.
When we got to the shore, Diana pointed out a quarry of green rocks that were exposed due to the low tide. The algae that had rooted onto the rocks created a really soft, mossy look on hard, impenetrable stone. Eager to use the rock medium and such a vibrantly colored one at that, Bop capitalized on a good drawing stick he had found and drew a circle for us to start filling with these velvet stones.
We initially thought to use a rusted metal piece as the circle’s center point, similar to Goldsworthy’s black center point in his circle of rocks above. Our choice to use metal deviates from what I’ve seen utilized in Goldsworthy’s work so far since the metal is of human origin and ultimately on the beach due to human neglect. We live close to the New York City and other high population centers so the environmental impact of humans is inescapable. What’s interesting though is nature’s ability to gradually return our goods to dust and in the process finding a way to make our discards somewhat beautiful and artfully dealing with a problem we burdened it with. While we initially planned to incorporate the metal, we ultimately decided the look wasn’t for this piece and removed it in favor of an all-green stone uniformity.
John spent a good portion of time diligently trying to smash his own rock pieces to fill the smaller spaces in the circle, or more likely, just for the sake of smashing things, while Bop, Diana and myself tread a worn path back and forth from the circle to the quarry to complete the project. These many trips disturbed the sand surrounding the piece so Diana found a log to roll around the circle like a baker’s rolling pin to flatten the sand. Goldsworthy plans for many of his works to be appreciated in certain periods of light and while we have lacked this foresight on our few projects to date, we all agreed the sun hitting the green stone at the right time would have looked great. Unfortunately the sun had other plans as did we and we missed our window to extract the true vibrancy of the emerald rocks, but all in all we were pleased with the finished work. We left there knowing the effort it took us to move all those rocks would likely allow the project to remain there for some time, but not vain enough to doubt the power of the water to resituate the rocks back to wherever it wanted them when it chooses to do so.