Greetings! I’ve been a lurker and sometime commenter for a while, and decided to try the other side of the table. I work mostly with stitched textiles, which have been occupying me now for some 15 years, before which I worked in book publishing. I have always been interested in art. Some of you possibly know my blog: Threading thoughts
I thought that I would try to come up with a contribution to the Cafe at about this time every month. Anyway, with apologies if I make a mess of the upload, here I go:
Today I visited the Richard Long Heaven and Earth exhibition at Tate Britain in London. His work falls into the broad category of Land Art in that essentially he walks through landscape, making marks by using elements of that landscape such as rocks or earth, or by walking down the grass as in the image above, and then photographs his interventions.
He also performs prescribed walks such as 100 miles in 100 hours, or all the roads within a circle described around a specific point. For these walks he marks or draws outlines on maps, adds printed text, and frames them. Other works consist of words printed on paper, or reproduced on a wall, describing elements of the walk such as the sounds heard, sights passed, music listened to, etc.
Other gallery pieces consist of two-dimensional geometrically exact outlines on the floor filled with rocks from a specified place. The one below was installed on the accessible balcony roof of the gallery, and when I saw it I enjoyed the relationship it had with both building and surrounding landscape.
The other kind of work Richard Long makes is temporary mud-splashing on walls. He usually employs mud from the immediately local river for this – or mud from his own local river which is the Avon in South West England. I have seen this kind of work a few times, including in Nimes, France as shown here on Richard Long’s newsletter
My favourite piece of his is a permanent feature of a sculpture garden near my home, and which I visit fairly regularly. The piece is named the buzzard line, and follows on the ground the flight of a buzzard to one particular tree. It works particularly well because of the situation of the tree in the surrounding landscape. It sits at the top of the hillside overlooking a glorious bowl of a lush valley facing south. The buzzard has a fine view of prey from there. The line is made of heaped flint which is plentiful in this area and of course is known as the raw material for some of man’s earliest tools.
I find Richard Long’s work seductive, but I have wondered what there really is to it. I have found it difficult to engage fully with the body of work when only seeing elements here and there, and especially if with the work of other artists. I was pleased that this exhibition provided me with the opportunity to look hard and think about what he is doing.
Artist is such a broad description. Long is a performer with no audience present. Even his photographs record his having walked, or his having marked the walk. We have the evidence, but we have no witness. He is rather like those prehistoric folks who left their wall marks, their henges, their standing stones as enigmas for us.
He wants to declare himself as an artist and hence the gallery work. In paraphrasing what was stated on one of the descriptive text panels in the exhibition: the evidence of the walks feeds our spirit, and the physical rocks and mud feed our imaginations – and I do find that the words are poetry.
Is this art literature made concrete? A room outside the exhibition contains many of Long’s artist’s books, and indeed walking through the galleries of work was rather like wandering through the pages of such. I am coincidentally reading Johanna Drucker’s excellent The Century of Artists’ Books and also thinking about the book form, so this examination of Long’s work is not too much of a diversion.
Is his work a personal journal which can be taken as a kind of manual for our own approach to the landscape around us? Or is the fact that he shows us in his photographs landscapes that are untouched by human hand other than his own a kind of romantic arrogance and non-engagement with the reality of our exploitation of the earth?
I certainly want to think more about Long’s work, and also to explore the work of other Land Artists. I have come away with not only the exhibition catalogue, but also the Phaidon book on Land and Environmental Art. I’m keen to broaden my thoughts to include Andy Goldsworthy, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Chris Drury, James Turrell about whose art I know a little.