Thursday, April 13, 2017

Interview with Richard Long, by Mario Codognato, 1997

The following interview was taken directly from the book Mirage, a collection of Richard Long's work published by Phaidon.

Mario Codognato: Your walks in the landscape and the sculptures made along the way, and recorded in photographs, maps or text works, are an essential element in your art. How do you choose your itineraries?

Richard Long: For many different reasons. I may have a precise, pre-planned idea for a road walk. Alternatively, especially on a wilderness walk, I will encounter places and experiences which are new and not predictable, and my ideas could change along the way. I like to use both ways of working. Sometimes I go to familiar places like Dartmoor, specifically using my own experiences and history for the work, and other times I could go to a very unknown (to me) place like Tierra del Fuego. Good places like that usually make good walks. 

I had a particular desire in the seventies to make my circles, and also the straight hundred mile walks, in different types of landscapes around the world. 

MC: Circles in most cultures are the symbolic representation of the fundamental elements of nature, like the sun or the moon, of the divine, of the recurring of time, of infinity. Lines often indicate continuation in space, distance communication, movement. Why have you chosen those forms so often?

RL: I made my first circle in 1966 without thought, although in hindsight I know it is potent for all the reasons you describe. A circle is beautiful, powerful, but also neutral and abstract. I realized it could serve as a constant form always with new content. A circle could carry a different walking idea, or collection of stones, or be in a different place each time.

A circle suits the anonymous but man-made character of my work. My ideas can be expressed better without the artistic clutter of idiosyncratic, invented shapes.

Circles and lines are also practical, they are easy to make. A line can be made just by aligning features in the landscape, and it can point to the horizon, into the distance.

The particular characteristics of each place determine which is most appropriate, a circle or a line. It's always obvious. A circle is more contemplative, focused, like a stopping place, and a line is more like the walk itself. On a twelve day walk in the mountains of Ladakh in 1984 I made a sculpture - marks along the way - literally on the line of the walk and the footpath. Walking within walking.

MC: Quite a few of your works are transient. A line made by walking on the grass disappears after a time. Often your mud works are cancelled at the end of an exhibition. What is your idea of duration and eternity?

RL: On a beach in Cornwall in 1970 I made a spiral of seaweed below the tide line. I liked the idea that my work, lasting only a tide, was interposed between past and future patterns of seaweed of infinite variation, made by natural and lunar forces, repeating for millions of years.

Often the transient is closely related to the eternal in nature.

In an ideal art world, I would prefer some of my mud works, especially the large majestic ones to remain after an exhibition.

MC: For quite a few years, I have been lucky enough to witness the way you install your works in exhibition spaces. You seem to give, almost magically, a sort of order from chaos. The viscosity of mud - the union of water and earth - becomes a vortex of energy which gives birth to the most beautiful wall work. An ordinary pile of stones becomes an amazing sculpture which invites contemplation and meditation. What are the roles of chance and time in the execution of your works?

RL: Particularly with the mud works, time and chance make them, in a way. Because they show the nature of water as well as mud - the wateriness of it - I have to work quickly to make the energy for the splashes. The image is both my actual hand marks but also the chance splashes which are determined by the speed of my hand, the viscosity of the mud, and gravity. There is the scale of the work both as a whole image and also the micro-scale of the splashes with their cosmic variety. I like being able to use and show the nature of chance in this part of my work. 

Time is the fourth dimension in my art. It is often the subject of a walk - time as a measurement of distance, of walking speed, or of terrain, or of fatigue, or of carrying stones, or of one stone to another. 

The sculptures contain the geological time of the stones. 

MC: Global warming and the devastation of many environments is more and more the concern of the general public and our culture. Many people see your work as about ecology as well. How do you define your art, and what is your view about this aspect of it?

RL: My work is just art, not "political" art, but I do believe - now more than years ago - that I have to be responsible, both in my work and in my general life, like anyone.

I first chose landscape so as to use the dimension of distance to make a work of art by walking. That was on Exmoor. I was intuitively attracted to such relatively empty, non-urban landscapes partly because they were the best places to realize my ideas, but also because such places gave me pleasure to be in. They had a spiritual dimension which was also important for the work. So my work comes from a desire to be in a dynamic, creative and engaged harmony with nature, and not actually from any political or ecological motives.

I believe if it is good enough, if a love and respect for nature comes through, if only indirectly, then that is my statement of intent. One of the main themes of my work is water, and water is more important than technology.

(Still waters run deep)

Making art in the type of landscapes which still cover most of our planet gives me quite an optimistic and realistic view of the world. I think my work is almost nothing, it's just about being there - anywhere - being a witness from the point of view of an artist. 

The landscape is a limitless arena where I can engage with those things that have the most meaning and interest for me, like rivers, camping, the weather, measuring countries by my own footsteps, mud, moving a few stones around, and being in places of profound experience. 

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