Unseasonal encounters

Andy Goldsworthy, Snowballs in Summer, 2000

Snow is one of my very favourite things. I might not like the inconvenience of it and I’m not keen on the slip hazard aspect but that fades into insignificance against the way it looks. So snow as art is something I might reasonably be expected to love, right? Well, as it turns out, not necessarily.

In the run up to his exhibition at the Barbican in 2000, Andy Goldsworthy brought thirteen giant snowballs to London, placing them around the city to be discovered on midsummer day. The snowballs, each weighing approximately a ton and approximately 2m across, had been made in Scotland during the previous two winters and kept in cold-storage in readiness. Embedded in them were reminders of the rural landscape from which they originated which would become more apparent as the snow melted leaving behind the twigs, pebbles, sheep’s wool, barbed wire and so on.

What I do like about this work is the idea of people coming across the snowballs unexpectedly and reacting to them in unpredictable ways. A snowball left near Smithfield market, and containing the hair of Highland cattle, was apparently given a face and hat by market traders. In this response the traders effectively took ownership of the work and turned it into something more playful.

I’m not sure quite what it is that bugs me about the project but I think it’s the implication that by bringing elements of the rural landscape into the city Goldsworthy is reminding us of, oh, I don’t know, pick a cliché: the beauty of the countryside perhaps, or the industrialisation of the countryside by agriculture. But there’s something about the way Goldsworthy works with natural forms to make images for coffee table books that grates for me. Goldsworthy’s interventions seem twee and contrived; left to its own devices, nature will always win. And, for me, when brought into London his work seems banal. As Goldsworthy, through his work, is trying to tell me how beautiful the countryside is all I can focus on is the idea that he’s failed to spot how beautiful London is. It’s really quite hard not to win me round with a delivery of snow but somehow Goldsworthy managed it.

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