Richard Long – Heaven and Earth

September 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All walks leave traces on the ground, and in history, but most of the time those traces evaporate instantly from the landscape and from our memories, a means to arrive somewhere else. Even the deliberate, significant journeys we make rarely stay in our minds as walks themselves. It is the achievement that is remembered, not the real, physical presence of ourselves and our bodies in the landscape. Tales of hardship, photographs of special sights, or diaries and logs of the experience remain as ghost stories, tales of a presence we were for a while but are no longer.

Richard Long’s work, his exhibition at Tate Britain finished today, is an attempt to grasp, to praise, or simply to consider the moment of walking, the presence in the landscape of the man or woman that is also the moment of their presence on the planet. So he marks out the physicality of the walk – the routes taken, the things seen, the places he stayed – and raises them in our consciousness as real connections with the world, with ourselves now and in the past.

There is also a profound respect for the different levels of connection. Central to his work is the raw presence of the walker on the earth, the routes we take, the tracks we make. This presence is elaborated, for example, by the stone sculptures he makes – human art forged from 400 million year old rocks set in the ageless landscape of Snowdonia, the Canadian prairies or the Andes. Maps are also important. These abstractions not only make the expeditions possible but also encapsulate that experience in a richness and beauty that any artist must appreciate. So when he draws a black line across an ordnance survey map of Dartmoor, we see the beauty of the map maker, the joy and pain of the walk, the active creation of the artist and beyond that the reality of the hills and moors of the land itself.

Korzybski’s profound point that the map is not the territory was picked up by Gregory Bateson to becomes a central concept in disenchanting the relationship between human communication and understanding – in the form of art, science, religion, individual consciousness or social constructions – and the world as is, the thing in itself that we can only know through the mediation of our senses and those modalities of human communication. Richard Long re-enchants that linkage as an artist should. The short word descriptions of some of his walks or the things he saw or thought about, both encapsulate the experience and highlight the inadequacy of the representations. In accepting that it would be impossible to capture every aspect of an 8 day hike across the Cairngorms or a 10 mile walk across Dartmoor, he captures an essence that we miss in our walk logs or infinite digital photographs.


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