Venue
Tate Britain
Location
London

Heaven and Earth: Richard Long Retrospective at Tate Britain, London.

We are embedded within heaven and earth. It is our real identity. There is not a lot more to say, though as a species, we seem to make an awful lot of fuss and noise as we make our way through the world.

For me, this fundamental reality is the continuing message of Richard Long’s work, though others might approach it differently. It is what I say when people ask me ‘Why does he keep on making those stone circles, year after year?’ It is the most important message anyone could give, and it bears repeating. And of course every circle is different, depending on the place, the time and the circumstances – and there is infinitely more to his practice than just the circles. Underlying it all, there is the walking, the passing through the landscape.

The famous photograph: ‘A Line Made by Walking’ (made whilst still a student in 1967) was one of the exhibits in this Tate Britain retrospective. This simple work now seems to encapsulate an entire era – a time when currents of minimalism, conceptualism and land art were at play, and there was growing interest in Eastern philosophy. But at the time, it must have appeared a startling departure from orthodox sculptural practice.

“My art is in the nature of things

I like the idea of making something from nothing

I can walk all day and sleep all night following an idea

I use the land without need of ownership

My talent as an artist is to walk across a moor
or place a stone on the ground

My work is about movement and stillness
the walking and the stopping places
it can be passing by or leaving a mark

I use intuition and chance body and mind
time and space

I use the world as I find it”
(from the exhibition brochure)

Richard Long began walking as an art form as a way of considering scale, distance, dimensionality, time and space, and has been doing it ever since. The walks are often documented by photography, text or maps as appropriate, and these become artworks in their own right. It was very satisfying for me to see such an extensive body of work all together – and to recognise many old friends that I have long known in reproduction.

I was particularly interested in his use of black and white photography, which together with lettering and printing techniques, both ‘dated’ the works and also gave a sense of an endless journey through time.

His focus is upon the landscape. Whether his walks have been taken close to home in England, or in remote areas of the world such as the Sahara or the Arctic Circle, there is, on the whole, no sign of human activity in the photographs – only the signs of his own passing through.

The familiar smell of mud as I first walked into the gallery, and Long’s handprints covering an enormous area of wall, gave me an immediate sense of a particular place in nature (in this case, the River Avon near Bristol) . At the same time I felt a sort of primal urge to become involved and integrated into the land in the same way. There were a number of other large-scale mud works, and some large stone pieces, simple, archetypal forms, but dense in meanings and resonances. All of these had a similar double-sided effect: the evocation of ‘place’ and a silent insistent invitation to go deeper.
The appeal is to the physical senses. The books, photographs, maps, poetry and textual works take you there by a different route.

RAILWAY LINE
A PAIR OF BUZZARDS
THISTLES
IRISHMAN’S WALL
WHITEHORSE HILL
STATT’S HOUSE …….
(from ‘A Straight Northward Walk across Dartmoor’ England 1979.)

I was so happy to find myself coming out into the vast central gallery containing the six massive stone works, stunning in their physicality, their simplicity of form and the absolute precision of geometry within this space.
I lingered amongst the stones, every one unique, every one in its place, complementing each other and the wall-based works I had just seen. The whole gallery seemed to vibrate with life.

To see the stones, you will need to look at The Richard Long Newsletter (under ‘Current Exhibitions’)

Heaven and Earth is a memorable and awe-inspiring exhibition, which gave me an experience of being held safe within the forces of the universe. But, towards the end of the exhibition, some enormous colour prints brought me jarringly up-to-date, reminding me of tourist advertising: nature as commodity. I didn’t care for these at all! On reflection though, I can see that Long has once again knocked the edges of our comfort zones: indirectly drawing attention to currently prevailing attitudes and their environmental consequences.

Whatever form it takes – photographs, maps, text, walking, or works with stone, sticks, mud or water – Richard Long’s art is grounded in direct engagement with the land, and tells us of our true nature.

Richard Long’s official site has a huge amount of information on his work: http://www.richardlong.org

And you will find details of his exhibitions, including many superb shots of ‘Heaven and Earth’ on The Richard Long Newsletter (under ‘Current Exhibitions’). Heartily recommended.

There is also a wonderful review by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, titled ‘A Hymn of Love to the Earth’

‘ Heaven and Earth’ runs until 6th September, at London’s Tate Britain: www.tate.org.uk


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