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Rivers and Tides (Thomas Riedelsheimer)

February 10, 2008

Rivers and Tides  is a documentary about artist, Thomas Riedelsheimer, and his work in natural, transient sculptures.  He makes snaking lines of leaves, grass, ice, contrasting colors of sticks and flowers in circles, loops or floating down a stream.

Thomas works a meditative shift and a new mode of perception. I won’t see sculpture, nature and the flow of water in the same way again.  And I will think  twice before I give up making something because I feel self-conscious about how it fits my social context or somehow doubt its value.

Two concepts in particular struck me:

Utility.  What is Thomas’ are for? In the current American way of thinking about career, economy and even art, Thomas answer is not adequate.  It is for a personal understanding, for a moment of perception.  It is there to make fleeting ties between elements to move our frame reference. You can’t take it home and hang it on the wall; you can’t buy it for  museum collection. It can’t really be justified by any of our common "explanations" for art.

Attachment.  Thomas is remarkably unattached to the product of his work.  A stream of leaves in a creek is transient. In fact, none of his art seems intended to be permanent. In one scene we see a line of yellow flowers flow down a swift stream, passing near a yellow circle of flowers in the rocks–a scene designed to be experienced once and only if you the observer doesn’t look away at the wrong moment.

Further, the documentary shows many of Thomas’s works falling apart with his hands still on them, before they are complete.  His detachment in these circumstances is unusual.  Thomas sometimes expresses disappointment, but never appears to experience an exasperation the drives him to revise his outlook. He simply starts again.

Thomas’s equanimity seems to come from feeling as if he is a particular part of something large. And Thomas expression of his part seems severely critical of many popular claims of what that "something" might be.

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