Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Long Way

Surely there can be no objections in walking to a Richard Long exhibition? Even if it is only partly from Bristol Temple Meads train station to the Arnolfini. You’ll hear no complaints from me! I don’t have a dog or often seek out ventures to walk in romantic forgotten landscapes but wherever and whenever I do walk, which is everyday and often as a means of getting from A to B, I enjoy it!

Fundamentally Richard Long is an artist who has turned walking into his art form. Simultaneously it is both process and product from which the creative process is conceived and executed. Time, distance, temperature, latitude and longitude become the measurements to which these walks and interactions take place. Since the 1960s Long has been creating work that explores how we move, document and experience walking in the landscape using aesthetic approaches and thinking influenced from conceptual and minimal art practices. In 1972 Long presented ‘Stone Circle’ at Arnolfini, Bristol where now a new exhibition is on display featuring new and previous work from Long’s relationship walking within Bristol and the South West.

“No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep doing it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.”* Murakami’s comment on running could be said as much for Long’s walking and they share testament in the idea that the act of walking/running become very much about thought through physical effort. In Long’s case this physicality of a connection with the land takes form in natural human ancient traces of moving stones or painting with mud. Anyone who has ever walked on their own for over an hour in a particularly remote landscape can relate to the feeling of escapism, isolation and (debatably) humbling smallness this kind of being immersed in the activity of walking can create. What is interesting about Long is how he attempts to bring these quite big, experiential, outdoor ideas into the gallery.

Richard Long 'Muddy Water Falls' (2015) at Arnolfini

In the ground floor of Arnolfini is Long’s exhibition-based work at its most iconic and awe inspiring, ‘Muddy Water Falls’ (the mud of which, appropriately has been taken from the bank of the River Avon). The work brings the outside, in; the mud creating two huge wall-based mud works that appear to cascade down the back walls of the gallery in a partly uncontrolled, partly hand painted piece of cave art. In its smell, texture and earthy rawness it is quite striking and consumes the gallery space on an impressive scale. Long’s wall mud works have a feeling of wildness about them, there is a giving-in to the uncontrollability of the mud as it runs/splashes down the walls but there is also a Sol Lewitt form of control to it as well. The composition is divided between the controlled (i.e. painted back walls) and the spontaneous which whilst alluding to ideas of an implied ‘wildness’ of nature also and more significantly in Long’s work, touches upon our human relationship within it.

 The text-based works also in this room have similar affect, each providing a means of documenting through list based measurements the walks which Long has undertaken. In example, ‘Red Walk’ listing each of the red things spotted during a walk. Conceptually I enjoy the written works as they conjure thoughts of how we process experience, which is so often through memory snap-shots of colours, sounds, landmarks or smells that build-up our relationship with a sense of place. I can also imagine the ideas in Long’s walks have been interpreted many times as ways of getting adults and children alike to engage in the landscape. Whether these works need a gallery context is something I am less sure on and feel that they are best understood acted-upon in the context of the landscape, read in a book or perhaps on an App that prompts you to consider things/look when out on a walk. Artists are already using this such as ‘Poetry Pin’+ by Christopher Jelley which includes stories, poems and hidden objects to spot and interact with along various walks in and around Somerset.

Richard Long 'Time and Place' (2015) at Arnolfini

Circles and cross motifs and lines are reoccurring symbols in Long’s work and feature in sculptural and photographic works in the upstairs gallery. ‘Time and Space’ (pictured) is a new work made from slate taken from a quarry in Cornwall whom Long has worked with for many years. X literally marks the spot with the cross being assembled in the heart of the gallery, its motif sharing symbolism with points of a compass and other mapping devises. In the room opposite a series of concentric circles mark the central floor space, a sculptural piece which has been placed in many different sites including The Downs in Bristol and in locations throughout the Irish countryside. It is at this point I realise how far reaching Long’s work has been and ‘walked’ from photographic works that depict walks in the Himalayas to Antarctica.

I have expressed an uncomfortable uncertainty toward land art in gallery spaces before, believing it is a double-edged sword that on the positive side provides exposure/education to this type of work but on the negative side feels sometimes a little too detached, forced to conform  and sterile from its starting source of the landscape. Maybe that juxtaposition in itself is interesting.  There is a new work titled, ‘Boyhood Line’ on The Downs in Bristol as part of this exhibition that I didn’t get to see but have seen Long’s work outside in Cornwall previously, often accidently crossing  or stumbling over his line arranged stones! I think these interactions with his work are more genuine and whereas work inside the gallery reacts more architecturally to space these respond more to the human body and our location within the landscape it is placed. Both perhaps, are important in documenting/preserving and ensuring (pardon the pun) the longevity of this artists work.

Richard Long, 'Time and Space' in Arnolfini is a point of departure and after leaving the exhibition should really mark the beginning of a new experience of noticing and engaging with world outside. The exhibition continues outside the gallery...

Richard Long ‘Time and Space’ can be seen at Arnolfini until Sunday 15th November 2015

*Haruki Murakami ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’

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