My research paper is coming along nicely and I have at its core the work of walking artist Richard Long. I went on an expedition last Friday – a 6 hour return train trip and walk of 15.42km no less – to see the Time and Space exhibition currently showing at the Arnolfini in Bristol.
It was a fascinating collection of Long’s work in a gallery which first showed him in 1972, and which gathered together a range of works which link to Long’s childhood home in Bristol and showed the connection he has with the place. I have seem some of Long’s physical gallery installations before, but never seen any of text works shown alongside them. You cannot help but stop and think when you see the words imprinted in large font across the white wall, almost haiku like in its contemplativeness.
Standout pieces: Muddy Water Falls 2015, the latest in a series which Long applies mud directly to the gallery walls. This piece has been made with mud from the banks of the river Avon. The work is a record of a physical action of the dynamic gestures which are dictated by the nature of the materials being used – the splashing, fluid quality of the mud. This ‘mud wall’ is surrounded by a series of quiet textual records of landscape, many of them also referencing an experience Long had along the banks of the River Avon.
I also very much associated with another text work in this room, the “Red Walk” from 1986.
The rest of the exhibition had more of Long’s photographic works and two installations including Bristol 1967/2015, a series of concentric circles (“a cross between a tape measure and a perimeter fence”) which were taken to different places and photographed. The exhibition guide sums this up as “a reference to that simple but profound experience a person travelling through a landscape may have in realising that the centre of the world is wherever they happen to be at the time.”
Interestingly, my own photo of this exhibit was terrible, so I found a new one – this one sourced from an Independent review here. I was surprised how scathing this review was of the show, nearly all of which I disagree with. I have been musing on this, and know that Long has a bit of a marmite effect – people either get and love his work, or they really, really don’t. I wonder if it simply appeals to a certain mind-set of person. The quieter, introverts among us that have no shame in enjoying something so esoteric and untouchable. For example, the reviewers reaction to the text works was somewhat different to mine:
“Long’s text works…are short descriptive narratives, often quite baldly factual, telling us when and where he went and how long it took him…Very often these texts works strike the onlooker as mind-numbingly banal. Of course, we are very pleased that he went, but how exactly should we be responding to such bald records on a wall? Mildly unenthusiastically.”
I found completely the opposite – as you look at the text, you know it is real. You know it describes an actual walk, a physical movement in the world that you cannot help but imagine as you follow the journey in words. I see them more as a poetic record which offers a different way to look at the world, seeking for something deeper than just the footsteps on the land.
After the gallery, I wandered off on foot to find the outdoor piece commissioned by the Arnolfini for the show up on the Downs just north of the city. On the way I walked the long way round to take in the magnificent views of the Avon Gorge from the Brunel-built Clifton Suspension Bridge. Wow. You could see instantly how a young artistically minded Long could not have helped but be inspired by this place. The tidal range of the Avon is massive and I was lucky to hit it at low tide, when you could see vast edges of mud exposed alongside the river channel. Looking at this, you can see exactly what Long is embedding into his muddy wall work – physically and emotionally.
After that revelation (which will be going into the essay!) the Boyhood line, was unfortunately almost a let down. The Line is a collection of stones in a line across the Downs where Long played as a young boy. The line itself was nice enough to see in person, but better was seeing how the land beneath has stared to react to the stones. The stones were laid along a desire line, “one of the many tracks which criss-cross the Downs, created by commuters, dog-walkers, runners, traders, farmers, and ancient Britons; those that remain visible, and those that have faded away”. And that sums up so nicely what it is I like most about Long’s work.