Thursday, August 2, 2007

Walking and Marking

‘In some cases, there is no physical alteration of the landscape and thus no ‘product’, but walking forms the medium of the work, suggesting a similarity to performance art. But he requires no audience… He saw walking as a kind of drawing, a mark-making process, which inscribed the landscape without necessarily leaving a mark.’

In 1981, I wrote these words about Richard Long as part of my art college dissertation Hill Figures to Land Art in which I traced links between ancient land art, the Victorian chalk hill figures, and the 60’s land art movement. At 21, I must have seen the 60s as ancient history. That’s my excuse now anyway, for speaking of Richard Long as if he was long deceased.

Fortunately he is very much alive and a major retrospective and exhibition of new work Walking and Marking is currently showing at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Since 1981, I’ve had the opportunity to see several of his exhibitions and they never fail to excite me. I tried to work out yesterday where that excitement comes from. Perhaps it is the suggestion hovering behind the evidence of his walks – photographs, words, lines drawn on a map, an arrangement of stones – of the solitary artistic life, the intent, the preoccupations in his mind as he walks. They are preoccupations that drove him on to ‘A coast to coast walk across Ireland’ or ‘A Leap year walk, England 1996’. The words tease, and leave gaps between the High tide at Avonmouth at midday and a total eclipse of the full moon at midnight 366 miles and eight days later. These gaps evoke for me the connections he has made through time and space.

In an interview in the exhibition catalogue he says, ‘My materials are elemental: stone, water, mud, days, nights, rivers, sunrises. And our bodies are elemental: we are animals, we make marks, we leave traces, we leave footprints.’ In 1981, I had no idea that my interest in walking, even then, would lead me towards even greater interest in Richard Long’s ideas – that I too would be fascinated with marks that humans have left in the landscape – paths made by bare feet on their way to a fishing boat, or tracks defined by the hooves of cattle on the annual drove to market in the 18th and 19th centuries. And that I would want to work with these as ‘art’ too.

‘..When I’m out doing my thing,’ says Long, ‘many people would consider that I’m not working at all, that I’m just walking on a mountain.’ It’s all in the intent, the connections drawn, and these are largely invisible to others. Fortunately for Richard Long he has found a way of showing what captivates him about landscape in a way that can be brought into a gallery, has developed installations and mud 'markings', and this has made him hugely influential.

‘So you’ve got a grant to go on a walk?’ someone said to me of my Creative Scotland Award. My challenge now is to communicate in words the intent of my journeys that feel both like 'going for a walk' but also more than this. As Thomas A Clark says in his prose poem In Praise of Walking, 'The line of a walk is articulate in itself, a kind of statement'.

1 comment:

Michael said...

You write very beautifully about the ideas behind your walking project.