With over 250 solo exhibitions to date, Richard Long returns to his artistic beginnings with ‘Time and Space’ at Arnolfini.
After seeing the starting points of Long’s works along with specially commissioned ones for this purpose – spread over Arnolfini’s three floors – one is invited to contemplate the history of it all, both the artist’s personal history and the quintessential passage of time into space, which is the very material of history.
On the ground floor, Long presents ‘A Line in the Himalayas’ (1975) which shows a line of rocks assembled high on a glacier near Everest base camp, made on a 23-day walk in Nepal. All rocks were found in the local area, then put together, and could easily be scattered almost immediately. Taking the difficult trip in order to create something quite temporary is what defines many of Long’s landscape sculptures, as marks of passage, made with transient materials such as sand, snow or water.
There are two other works in the foyer, ‘A Five Day Walk’ and ‘Power Line Walk’ (1980), which represent Long as a local, as they focus on walks that measure lines that either start or finish in Bristol. From the early experiments in the countryside around Bristol, Long developed an artistic practice that he then applied to other familiar places as well as quite unfamiliar ones on the other side of the world.
Photography is vital in capturing the temporariness of Long’s landscape sculptures and fixing it, thus creating a different form of permanence.
Gallery 1 exhibits ‘Muddy Water Falls’ (2015), the latest in Long’s series of works, in which mud is applied by his hand directly onto the gallery wall. For this exhibition the mud has been taken from the bank of the River Avon. It’s said to represent the artist’s physical actions, in which the mud dried on the wall is a record of the dynamic gestures by which it was applied, and the result of it reminiscent of the mud’s origin, the cycles of erosion, redistribution, drying out and washing away that it undergoes in the river. Contrasting this dynamic energy is the text on the gallery walls, offering a quieter perspective and a poetic way of recording the experience of landscape.
Gallery 2 presents ‘Bristol 1967/2015’, which was first constructed in Bristol in 1967 and then taken to many different places in the world, only to be again re-created in Bristol, thus returning to its origins. Further in Gallery 2, and stretching to Gallery 4, is a selection of Long’s photographic work of his sculptures before being eaten by time. Then, in Gallery 3, Richard Long presents us with ‘Time and Space’ (2015), a monumental new sculpture, made from slate, and in the form of a right-angled cross, as the recurring symbol of Long’s work, along with the line and circle. The cross is symbolic in itself, but in Long’s hands it can be said to symbolise a marker of a defined point in his journeys, the point where he gave birth to his idea or inspired feeling.
In ‘Walking the Line’ (1986), Rudi Fuchs says that there is a temptation to be romantic or poetic when one is writing about Long’s extraordinary art trying to grasp the meaning of it. He initially goes counter this idea, proposing that Long is putting forward truly modern ideas even when appealing to ancient practices – pilgrimages, wilderness, eternal landscapes, natural materials.
Further in the book, he goes on to say that ‘in Richard Long’s work, form and experience and memories and feelings come together, mysteriously and beyond the words of the prose-writer: so there is the intimation of poetry’.
Of course, Fuchs is not the first one to suggest Long’s poetic quality. Others feel that Long’s use of language often moves away from description to the poetic, reminiscent of the Japanese haiku style which, more than a poem, is a way of looking at the world and seeing something deeper.
As for me personally, Long’s works immediately triggered the memory of Gertrude Stein’s experimental poetry. I can see an unlikely likeness between the two. Out of pure love of language, Stein alone attempted to rise above any rules, poetry or description, and even though considered unintelligible, one cannot but feel the richness and beauty of sound – musical language, if you will – when reading her lines. Consider this extract from ‘Tender Buttons’ (1914):
…‘The sooner there is jerking, the sooner freshness is tender, the sooner the round it is not round the sooner it is withdrawn in cutting, the sooner the measure means service, the sooner there is chinking, the sooner there is sadder than salad, the sooner there is none do her, the sooner there is no choice, the sooner there is a gloom freer, the same sooner and more sooner, this is no error in hurry and in pressure and in opposition to consideration’.
It’s perhaps best to let the artist speak for himself, and to finish off here’s Richard Long himself:
‘I am interested in universals: stones, water, mud, hands, days, circles, symmetry, gravity, footpaths, and roads. Walking is universal; we walked out of Africa for the first time as humans, on foot. Journeys are common to all people and cultures and yet it interests me to make walks that follow or realise original ideas, which are different from migrations or making journeys, or exploring, or being a nomad, or a pilgrim. Walking as art, in fact’.
‘Time and Space’ runs through to 15th of November at Arnolfini.
Richard Long is considered to be among the most important conceptual artists of his generation. In 1969, Richard Long’s work was included in the seminal exhibition When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle Bern, for which he presented his first text work documenting a walk made in the Alps. He won the Turner Prize in 1989, and represented Great Britain at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976. He was made a Royal Academician in 2001, whereas in 2009 he was awarded Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in the field of sculpture.