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Bridging prehistoric with the contemporary through the works of Richard Long

Eva Wittocx speaks about her curatorial project, bringing together a wide representation of the British artist’s works at M Leuven as part of the city festival around the Big Bang.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Dec 07, 2021

I was first introduced to the works of Richard Long at the second edition of The Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace, Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur,  India. Curator Peter Nagy gave a curated walkthrough. The work titled River of Stones commanded the main courtyard of the palace. It presented multiple dichotomies for me. It was a contrast between solidity and fluidity; a highly contemporary work, in the backdrop of a heritage property, and yet with pre-historic references of structures like the Stonehenge. Made using local red sandstone sourced from the Aravali mountains, it was a work of art that one could walk around, and Nagy said had many visitors casually walk over and occasionally even displace a rock or two! Minimal yet expressive, it was a river with no water. And in the Indian context, river is sacred and we sculpt our gods in stone.

River of stones | Richard Long | STIRworld
River of stones Image: Courtesy of The Sculpture Park

I speak with Eva Wittocx, who recently curated an exhibition of the British artist at M Leuven in Belgium, comprising sculpture, textile, and mud works, alongside his writing.

Rahul Kumar (RK): Was it daunting to select works from such an illustrious career of Richard Long? How did you go about putting this exhibit together?

Eva Wittocx (EW): Yes, indeed, there were many works to choose from!

We wanted to include several aspects of his practise, both sculptures, mud works, photography …and text works. The specific works were selected in relation to the Big Bang Festival in Leuven, in particular some of the text works in the show. Within each of these specific groups of works we looked for variety, for example to include a sculpture with both wood and stones, a mud work where both line and circle are central. The photographic works needed to cover many continents and time periods.

Also, the specific galleries of museum M Leuven, some very monumental and other more intimate, helped in choosing works for the show.

Spring | Richard Long | STIRworld
Spring Image: Courtesy of Richard Long and Konrad Fischer Galerie

RK: It is fascinating how Long seamlessly bridges pre-historic ideas layered with the most contemporary philosophies. How do they make references to nature and the universe?

EW: Central in his practice is the relation or connection between man and nature, or the world. And how mankind has related to nature throughout history. Richard Long sees his work in relation to the oldest creations such as prehistorical cave paintings, the Stonehenge, etc. And of course, his interest in landscapes can be related to topics of today, how to respect nature, walking as a way to connect to oneself… Nature for him is not only the earth and this planet, but also the wider universe. It includes the sun and the moon, night and day, and the cycle of life at many levels.

Installation view | Richard Long | STIRworld
Installation view Image: Courtesy of Richard Long and Konrad Fischer Galerie

RK: Further, how are his works metaphors for existence and reflect his ideas about “travel, places, distance, time, space and movement”?

EW: Richard Long connects basic elements of nature (stones, sand, water, wood – all very straightforward) with human concepts and forms, specifically geometrical forms. He also believes in how everything is connected, in the relation between planets, the cycle of the moon, how the tide comes and goes. Time is a central element, the time spent in walking at a certain distance, from one place to another; but also, the time that is present in stones that are millions of years old, or the organic time in wood. Space and time are therefore key elements for his work.

For Long gravity is also a central element. Gravity is at work in his sculptures, always placed directly on the floor; and in the mud works where the water falls and drips on the walls.

White Mud Circle on Black Wall | Richard Long | STIRworld
White Mud Circle on Black Wall Image: Roman März, Courtesy of Richard Long and Konrad Fischer Galerie

The line is yet again an important element. It is crucial for his walks since the 60s. He creates a path or a line between two spaces, spending time between them. Richard Long is also an element himself. He walks on his own, very solitary. It is the footsteps of Long that make the work. In the mud works it is his hands that make marks on the walls.

M Knal, vernissage | Richard Long | STIRworld
M Knal, vernissage Image: Diederik Craps, Courtesy of Richard Long

RK: How does one interpret works that are made with minimal intervention to existing material, and yet are experienced at a massive scale; installations that are often ephemeral or bring nature into museums?

EW: He works with the most basic elements available; rough nature elements found at places near the exhibition venue, all pieces that one can carry. He positions them in the simplest geometric forms, a line…a circle, and also an ellipse or cross. The size of these works is chosen in relation to the venue of the work. These works are conceptual, are different every time they are presented, stones are positioned slightly differently each time. His works presented inside the four walls of a building are monumental and contrast with the ephemeral interventions that he makes, and photographs, during his walks in the nature. They, his landscape interventions, only last for a short moment and are not preserved.

L: Untitled, R: Black White Green Pink Purple Circle | Richard Long | STIRworld
L: Untitled, R: Black White Green Pink Purple Circle Image: Dirk Pauwels, Courtesy of Richard Long; R: FBM Studio, Courtesy of Richard Long and Galerie Tschudi, Zuoz (Switzerland)

RK: Please talk to us about his newest mud works in the exhibition. They yet again operate at the intersection of pre-historic cave paintings with his finger marks on the works and yet are immersive and futuristic in approach. 

EW: These mud works are a different way of bringing the relation with nature into the museum. They are made of clay mixed with water. They are made very fast, indeed by Richard Long himself, putting the clay with his right hand in a random pattern, within a specific form, on the wall. They are site specific, relate to the architecture and are overpainted at the end of the show. In M Leuven we choose two different ones that complement each other well. A monumental brown clay circle that dialogues with the stone circle in the gallery. And a high horizontal line with white clay and water on a black wall, dripping down. This last one is called Gravity Line and indeed gravity is a key to these works, with the mud running down on the walls. These works look expressive, like explosions where one can also feel the artist’ hand present. These works can only be made by Richard Long, and cannot be done by others. Here the circle and the line seem to come alive. For Richard they are both different and similar than the stone circles, as they are also made of sand (as are stones) and come in geometrical shapes.

M Knal | Richard Long | STIRworld
M Knal Image: Diederik Craps, Courtesy of Richard Long

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