The Goldsworthy Walk: WOOD LINE VERSION
Full Text provided for use with Screen Reader
SOUND: BIRDS SING AT SUNRISE AND WIND WHISPERS THROUGH TREES AND BRUSH. FOOTSTEPS WALK UP NEXT TO US ON THE LEFT AND COME TO A HALT. THE NARRATOR GIVES A QUIET SIGH, AS IF MAKING A DECISION.
NARRATOR: Let’s take a walk. Will you join me? We’re going on a walk through the forest, at the Presidio in San Francisco. Our path will follow a unique work of environmental art by the British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Sound interesting? It’s an intriguing piece, I’d love to explore it with you. The work is titled WOOD LINE and it’s made to be walked along. It traces a kind of path. In many ways the work is about walking. It’s about movement, but also about paying close attention, especially by listening.
SOUND: THE WIND PICKS UP FORCE AND WHISTLES AROUND THE TOP TALL TREES IN SUDDEN GUSTS
NARRATOR: WOOD LINE is about how things change: how we change as we move; how the environment changes over time; and how the natural and human worlds change each other, continually. The world is in the midst of powerful changes, and our current moment is no exception. We’ll learn how changes in the world have affected Goldsworthy’s work in ways he planned from the beginning, and in ways that no one could have predicted.
SOUND: FEET RUN THROUGH DRY LEAVES, CRINKLING PAST US, THEN AWAY INTO THE DISTANCE OF A QUIET FOREST.
NARRATOR: So we’ll use WOOD LINE’s pathway as a guide, stopping along the way to explore different facets of the art work. We’ll listen deeply to enrich our experience of the surrounding forest; we’ll learn about the history of the Presidio; and about the unique relationship Goldsworthy had with the environment here, spanning ten years and four different art works. Following his lead, we’ll enter territories of the imagination that great art can unlock in us.
SOUND: SUDDEN STILLNESS INSIDE A SMALL ENCLOSED SPACE.
NARRATOR: I mentioned that we’re going to pay special attention to our listening on this walk. That’s because this is an Audio Description of Wood Line, designed specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired. But there’s a lot about experiencing a place through listening that any visitor can benefit from. And so all audiences are invited to join in this audio-described experience, which is part of a special project supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
If you want all the basic info from the park’s printed brochure, you can go to that part of the program at any time using this UniDescription app. There are separate audio files that provide a quick history of the Presidio, there’s a capsule biography of Goldsworthy, and descriptions of the park map and expanded accessibility information.
If you need to pause between stops on our walk, that’s fine. The app will sense your location when you’re close to the next stop and you can start listening again whenever you’re ready.
So, let’s take a walk …
STOP NUMBER 1: BEING PRESENT
SOUND: FOOTSTEPS RUN IN THE DISTANCE AHEAD, LEAVES CRUNCHING UNDERFOOT. KIDS LAUGH AND CALL TO EACH OTHER, ECHOING INTO A TALL CANOPY OF TREES. SHIP HORNS ECHO FROM THE BAY IN THE DISTANCE.
NARRATOR: Here we are at the beginning of a quiet path that meanders through a lane between tall Eucalyptus trees. The path follows a striking and peculiar line: curving tree trunks are laid on the ground end-to-end. They’re bent to create an elegant line waving back and forth all the way down the lane.
This winding path is WOOD LINE. It’s a unique environmental art work made just for this place, using materials directly from the land. In a way, WOOD LINE is meant to frame the environment itself. And it asks us to pay close attention. It’s an invitation to slow down, to observe. By paying close attention, with all our senses, we can get a better feeling for where we are, and what it means to be here, now.
Let’s move forward until we reach the nearest trunk. It should cross your path like a fallen log.
Stretching ahead of us, Wood Line looks like a shape you could draw by moving your pencil gently back and forth in wider and wider curves going down a sheet of paper. Goldsworthy says that Wood Line “Draws the Place”, giving us a line to follow, not just visually but with our own steps.
SOUND: KIDS JUMP IN THE DISTANCE, FALLING FROM THE TRUNKS AND LAUGHING.
Okay, now move your awareness out to the space around you. Let’s listen to the place we’re in. Notice the volume of space under the canopy of trees, and the air moving through the branches. And all the other activity -- there’s a lot going on. The Presidio isn’t really such a quiet refuge once you start listening to it: there’s the highway on one side; tree work on the other; distant city sounds beyond that; and in the foreground, dogs being walked, school groups, and conversations of visitors moving past. The pulse of this place can be heard in ways that aren’t so easy to see. Let all this activity surround you, then let it flow past you like water around the stones in a river.
SOUND: A GENTLE RUSHING, AS IF WATER IN A RIVER OR STRONG WIND THROUGH TALL TREES.
Now reach down and touch the surface of the tree. Sit down if you like, the trunk makes a good bench. Feel the long cracks that split its surface, from seasons of soaking and drying. It’s earthy, with streaks of green moss that tell us the tree trunk is slowly decaying. It’s sinking back into the leaves and dirt. How many seasons before it’s gone, I wonder?
In his artworks, Andy Goldsworthy always wants us to think about the scale in terms of our own bodies. He doesn’t want us to just see it as a monumental sculpture, he wants us to get to know it, intimately, up close. When we feel the weathered surface, even smell the wood, we start to understand the tree’s inevitable return to the earth. And also its remarkable longevity. Consider the time it’s spent here, silent and still, through months, seasons, years. The tree is a patient witness to all the bustling changes around it.
SOUND: ENVIRONMENTAL SOUNDS SLIDE DOWN IN PITCH, BECOMING SLOW GENTLE RUMBLING. A SOFT BLANKET OF SOUND WRAPS US NOW, DAMPENING THE SHARPNESS OF THE EVENTS BEYOND.
NARRATOR: Let your sense of time slow down. Imagine falling into synch with the pulse of these fallen trees. How long is a present moment for a tree? What counts as “current” in the time of a fallen log? Or for the earth under our feet? WOOD LINE wants you to follow its path, but it’s in no hurry. We’ll find the real revelations of the work, and of the whole Presidio I think, when we slow down enough to touch them in their own time.
SOUND: PARK AMBIENCE RETURNS. CROWS CAW ABOVE OUR HEADS. A VOICE CALLS OUT TO A DOG AND THE JANGLING OF A DOG COLLAR MOVES ACROSS IN FRONT OF US. WE ARE BACK IN THE SPACE OF THE PRESENT.
NARRATOR: When you’re ready, let’s walk the WOOD LINE together. Keep the tree trunk on your right and move along until you come around its first full bend. You’ll be facing in the other direction than when you started. You can use the trunk as a guide to stay on the path. The app will cue you when you’re near the right place to begin the audio again.
STOP NUMBER 2: MOTION AND PERSPECTIVE
NARRATOR: So here we are, the same forest, same lane, but WOOD LINE has curved, giving us a new perspective. The Eucalyptus are nearer now. They have slender trunks with no branches until around twenty feet up. Their bark is a mix of brown, gray and pale green in dry vertical strips that twist up, giving them a flowing, mottled look. Leaves and small branches have fallen all around, making a brittle gray carpet. Someone has piled up the tallest limbs to make a kind of teepee-style fort, big enough for a kid to crawl inside and play. Let’s change perspective again, and consider the history of how this area came to be. The forest around us is actually a cultivated grove. Monterey Cypress were first planted in a row here between Eucalyptus trees by the Army in the 1880’s when it was an active military base. This was part of a master plan to create a forest in the Presidio, and the groves are still carefully managed to this day. But unexpectedly the Cypress didn’t thrive and died quickly. They were hauled away, leaving this gap.
SOUND: GOLDSWORTHY AND HIS CREW ATTACH TREE TRUNKS TOGETHER WITH THE HELP OF A CRANE AND HEAVY STRAPS.
NARRATOR: When he first visited in 2006, Goldsworthy learned about the Presidio’s forests and the trees became the major inspiration for all four works he made here. The shape of this forest was invented as a kind of experiment. But it also took its own course, and the history of the trees and the people here winds together through time. The gap that WOOD LINE passes through is a good example of this intertwining of natural and human forces. And it’s just the kind of thing Goldsworthy loves to explore. Starting from his first works in his native England, to large scale commissions around the world like this one, Goldsworthy is always paying attention to the details of what’s happening with the land.
INTERVIEW CLIP: The human element in the Presidio is also critical to how I think about the place. You know, my touch is an expression of the human presence in the place. What we’re doing now is laying down another layer, upon which others will be laid in time, over ours. It’s been a huge honor to be allowed to make so many works here, and not just to leave an object, but a layer.
NARRATOR: Goldsworthy’s art shows human nature as embedded in the natural world. At the same time the art reveals our great effects on that world, our constant changing of it. WOOD LINE also traces that motion of change. It becomes a living timeline of the Presidio’s history, and also the life cycle of the forest, from sprouting seed to standing tree to fallen log, and back again. In walking the WOOD LINE, the continual changes of the world become tangible, we can feel their contours. Every bend in the line presents an ebb and flow, a back and forth of time and change. It’s close enough to touch, and also something we can join in with our bodies as we move. Let’s continue along, to learn more about Goldsworthy’s deep engagement with the Presidio over time.
STOP NUMBER 3: DEEP TIME: SPIRE, TREE FALL, EARTH WALL
NARRATOR: WOOD LINE is just one part of the work Goldsworthy made here at the Presidio. He visited repeatedly over a period of nearly ten years. During that time he observed the place, talked with its caretakers, and imagined how his work could interact in meaningful ways with the landscapes here. In the end, he created four unique works at different sites around the park between 2006 and 2014. Together they represent a journey of understanding the Presidio’s environment, with a special focus on the life of the forests here.
SOUND: WIND BLUSTERS THROUGH HIGH TREE LIMBS AND WHISTLES AROUND THE TOP OF THE SPIRE.
Let’s go on a quick journey in the imagination to visit them all.
First came SPIRE in 2008, installed on the hill across from Inspiration Point. Completed in 2008, SPIRE looks just like its name: it’s a tall spire made from 37 Monterey Cypress tree trunks, carefully fastened together and twisting up and up, almost one hundred feet in the air and fifteen feet in diameter at the base.
That sounds big, but how can we get a full sense of the scale of SPIRE? Let’s try something. Lift your arms over your head, reach as high as you can. Feel the air on your fingers. Now take a deep breath, close your eyes. Imagine the trees stretching up together, just like your body, but fifteen times higher than your fingertips. At the very top, these are the fingertips of the trees. They’re feeling the wind. Imagine that space above us, that huge openness. Now reach up with your listening, up into the air. Use your mind’s ear…
SOUND: THE WIND RISES AS IF HIGH ON THE SPIRE. AND THE NARRATOR’S VOICE RECEDES BELOW US, AS IF WE ARE RISING INTO THE AIR TOWARD THE TOP.
NARRATOR: You did it! What’s it like up there? I know we’re just listening in the imagination, but still, that’s pretty cool.
SOUND: WE DESCEND AGAIN, ENDING BACK ALONGSIDE THEIR VOICE.
NARRATOR: Nicely Done. SPIRE is meant to be monumental, but it’s surprising how natural it appears, too. It’s just trees, after all. Each tree in SPIRE was cut down as part of the park’s plan to manage and regrow the forest. So Goldsworthy turned trees that were falling into trees that were reaching up and growing taller together. He always has this balance in mind, birth leading to growth, then decline, and returning to renewal.
SOUND: CONVERSATIONS IN THE DISTANCE AND FEET WALKING ON DRY EUCALYPTUS LEAVES. WE ARE BACK IN THE FOREST LANE OF WOOD LINE.
NARRATOR: We’re back at WOOD LINE, which was the second piece completed at the Presidio. From the vertical growing stretch of SPIRE, the trees here become a weaving line along the ground, moving us slowly back and forth through the landscape. In moving from SPIRE to WOOD LINE we can sense Goldsworthy himself moving further along the forest’s timeline in his thinking. He moves from the tree’s growth to its afterlife as a fallen trunk. And that path continues…
INTERVIEW CLIP: And I think when you look at all the works that I’ve made here, there is a kind of a progression where I’ve gone from the sky to the ground, to inside a building now into the ground itself. And I think one of the intentions of what I do is to try and get beyond the surface appearance of things, to try and touch on what lies below. And I think this work expresses that particularly well. There’s something inexplicable about the energy that’s in that form and what it has released and how people respond to it.
SOUND: A LOW DRY AMBIENCE IN A SMALL ENCLOSED ROOM.
NARRATOR: We’re inside a curious little stone building now. It’s called the Powder Magazine and it houses Goldsworthy’s third piece, called TREE FALL, finished in 2013.
For Goldsworthy, the building itself becomes a frame through which to view the passage between natural and human perspectives. The Powder Magazine was built to store the army’s explosives in the 1880’s, so the stone walls are four feet thick, and the inner ceiling is domed to contain any accidental explosions. Stepping through the door of this tiny building, it can feel like you’re traveling underground, into a hidden cave in the earth. Goldsworthy sensed the power of this transition, and he used it to create TREE FALL. Traveling from WOOD LINE, you might expect a fallen tree to be on the ground near us. But instead, it’s above us. Just out of reach, the whole domed ceiling of the room has been coated in thick mud taken from around the Presidio. It’s dried to a rich brown clay that has cracked into an intricate pattern. Most striking of all, a huge forking tree branch is suspended above us. It stretches from one end of the room to the other, about 9 feet high. The trunk has been coated in this thick cracking clay also. The dark clay makes it look like a giant root deep underground. It’s as if it’s over our heads but underground at the same time.
Thinking about the timeline of our walk, we’ve moved from reaching up into the sky, to reaching down to the surface of the earth, and now to reaching up again as if from under the earth. Imagine it: above us could be the decayed trunk of a piece of WOOD LINE, seen 100 years in the future, now buried under the earth. But our perspective has radically changed. We’re now in a kind of earth observatory, viewing something buried, hidden under earth and stone.
SOUND: CHISELING BY HAND WITH A HAMMER COMES FROM AHEAD OF US.
NARRATOR: If TREE FALL shows us something buried in the ground, EARTH WALL presents the work of digging below the surface to unearth and reveal it. It’s a fitting final piece for Goldsworthy’s journey at the Presidio.
INTERVIEW CLIP: I do love working in the same place, time and time again. I feel that I can make far stronger works. Spire that’s exploring the sense of space. Wood Line the surface. And the Tree Fall is getting very subterranean. But that idea of getting underneath the surface – this piece has pushed into territory that is new for me, and has opened up all sorts of possibilities.
NARRATOR: We’re at the back of a courtyard adjacent to the Presidio Archeology Lab. It’s a research center dedicated to excavating artifacts from the Presidio site and studying human traces for the histories they reveal. The nearby center gave Goldsworthy a new idea for a work that could bring things full circle.
SOUND: GOLDWORTHY CHISELING AGAIN, VERY CLOSE UP.
NARRATOR: In the back wall of the courtyard there’s a six-foot tall hole literally dug into the wall. It looks like a small vertical crater. And the hole isn’t empty! A tight ball of tree limbs has been revealed, buried within the wall. It’s like a huge knot of roots, or a giant nest. Goldsworthy created the work in stages of building, burying and uncovering to make it appear like an excavation. First, Goldsworthy built a semi-sphere of twisting Eucalyptus branches and mounted it to the existing wall of the courtyard. Then he buried the branches in another wall made of compressed earth, gathered from the soil of the courtyard itself. As this wall dried it totally encased the circle of tree limbs. Goldsworthy then returned and excavated the circle by hand.
INTERVIEW CLIP: So the process of digging, it was physical, it was hard, and that’s how it should be. There should be resistance in there, it should feel as if I’ve found something that’s been there a long time and in fact it was really interesting because it felt as if I’d buried it years back.
NARRATOR: EARTH WALL shows just how present, and active, the human efforts of building, shaping and tending are in what we often simply call the ‘natural world’. This includes activities like uncovering artifacts, framing experiences, and revealing histories that help us understand the environment and each other. The human and the natural are not opposed, Goldsworthy reminds us. They aren’t even separate. They’re are on a continuum, part of a constant conversation of mutual shaping and meaning-making, yielding a sense of place, and a sense of purpose.
We are surrounded by these layers, from the cultivated grove and walking lane, to buildings of adobe brick that now house labs for studying materials of the past. We are enmeshed in a world that transforms us just as we continually remake it. Goldsworthy found that in returning to this point he had arrived somewhere surprising and new.
INTERVIEW CLIP: I know it’s the latest piece, but maybe this is where it all begins, with this really intense core – you know, what’s happening here? You know, I feel all sorts of things when I stand in front of it. And the people who’ve come in here and expressed opinions have also. One guy came and said this looks like the renderings of images of the core of the earth. And you know, it’s the exact same thing that apparently is going on in the core of the earth, which is a beautiful idea - to go beyond the surface appearance of things. That contact… earth, wood, growth… life, that’s life. So I think I’m digging in deeper in both things that I’ve made but also conceptually in my understanding of the Presidio.
NARRATOR: In a way, WOOD LINE is a microcosm of the long walk through deep time and slow attention that Goldsworthy wants us to take through all four of his Presidio works. Let’s move on to find out more about how time and change in the environment can prove unpredictable.
WOOD LINE NUMBER 4 – TIME AND CRISIS
NARRATOR: So why don’t we just visit SPIRE ourselves? And then go for a little longer walk and take in TREE FALL and EARTH WALL while we’re at it? Well, even for works that embrace time and transformation, sometimes events can complicate the picture in unexpected ways.
SOUND: A BRUSH FIRE MOVES PAST IN THE WIND, RISING SLOWLY. CRACKLING OF BUSHES ALL AROUND, AND A ROARING IN THE AIR ABOVE US.
NARRATOR: After fourteen years of settling and weathering, a brush fire swept over Spire in June 2019, scorching and almost destroying it. Right now and for the foreseeable future access to SPIRE is blocked by a chain link fence and warning signs. On one of these signs the park has printed Goldsworthy’s reaction upon learning of the fire:
He writes, “The burning of SPIRE goes too deep for my own words. Besides, SPIRE has always spoken for itself and will perhaps now speak with an even greater eloquence after what has happened. If anything, its epitaph will be better written in the memories, thoughts and words of those who have lived with it over the past twelve years…”
On one hand this is part of the very natural cycle of burning and regrowth. In fact the saplings planted around SPIRE are growing fast. The tower is already becoming shrouded in a thicket of surrounding green. At the same time, the fire here is echoed by the terrible wave of wildfires that struck California throughout 2020. These remind us of the great danger of a changing climate. How long can this cyclical time line endure when elemental forces that sustain it are thrown out of balance?
And then of course the whole world fell into crisis in 2020 with the onset of the Covid-19 virus pandemic. When the pandemic hit, many events, activities and spaces in the Presidio were closed, and some remain so. For now, access to TREE FALL and EARTH WALL remains limited. WOOD LINE, like most of the trails here, has remained open but not unchanged: the first months of the pandemic brought a strange quiet here, in the absence of traffic, tree work and visitors that we are experiencing now.
These crises also emphasize something fundamentally important: change is inevitable and ongoing, and sometimes it cannot be predicted. Part of our wonder at the natural world is recognizing that it occurs beyond our control, and sometimes beyond our comprehension. Changes happen that are bigger than us, that don’t make sense, that seem threatening or frightening. But there is great hope there as well. Goldsworthy keeps his vision set on the long term, with faith in the endurance of humanity and of art:
He writes, “What I do know is that art doesn’t give up. It is resilient and fights back. It is part of our collective and personal hard-won immunity.”
We’re almost to the end of our WOOD LINE walk. Move along to the last stop, where we can consider what comes next …
WOOD LINE STOP NUMBER 5
NARRATOR: Goldsworthy imagines the trunks of WOOD LINE eventually settling into the ground, becoming just a memory but still present within the earth. What will the earth be like when that long process is complete? Can you imagine standing here in that future?
SOUND: LOW RUMBLING TONE WASHES UP AND MOVES OVER US, REVEALING A NEW AUDIO SCENE:
A HOVERCAR WHIRS AND SWOOPS OVERHEAD. THE ECHO SUGGESTS WE ARE INSIDE A HUGE HALL.
NARRATOR: What will it be like? A futuristic cityscape under a huge dome?
SOUND: FIRES RAGE ALL AROUND. A HELICOPTER BEATS THE AIR OVER OUR HEADS. SIRENS.
NARRATOR: A land at the breaking point, plunged into deeper and deeper crises?
SOUND: A WATERFALL RUSHES NEARBY. TROPICAL BIRDS CALL OUT. CICADAS CHIRP.
NARRATOR: An ecotopia? What’s waiting at the end of the line? If this is a timeline, then we are always standing on the point of the present. And the starting point for our understanding of any of these changes, whether gradual or sudden, cataclysmic or wonderous, is to feel the moment we are in as fully as we can. So now let’s give our full attention to that present, and listen in to what’s here, now.
Remove your headphones and just listen. Reach out with not just your hearing but your whole body, and your imagination, into the environment around us. It’s into this fully present awareness that Goldsworthy would like you to arrive, here at the end of our walk together.
Thanks for joining me, and taking a listen.