New York

Richard Long

John Weber Gallery

In a way, one might classify Insley as an armchair philosopher, for he seeks his being in the inner recesses of the mind, traveling into the realm of imagination. Richard Long, on the other hand, finds his content in active dialogue with nature, mapping out his personal space in terms of the landscape. If one senses a romantic primitivism in Long’s involvement with the earth, it is not the idealist mysticism of Insley’s vision. No, Long’s searching is a marking out on this world and is, thus, contingent on the physicality of his existence. His art is a personal record of his contact with the world, a defining of self in actual rather than mental space. Yet the traces Long leaves—the earlier Xs and circles, the more recent line of piled rocks in Ireland or stone pillars in Clare—are not the dramatic gestures of, for example, Michael Heizer. Long’s activity is quiet, more lyrical than violent. His pieces evolve out of their locale through a slow, repetitive movement rather than through forceful upheaval. In the end, they become signs in themselves. Their meaning is simply in their presence as marks of passage on the earth’s surface.

Perhaps a key into Long’s philosophy is his use of time. While Insley projects the dream space of the future backward into the present, Long carries the history of past encounters forward into the present. Long uses photography not only as a document of his actions, but also as a means of making his past continuous with the present. In another sense, time for Long becomes a direct measure of space and a concomitant of bodily existence in the world. Two of the pieces in his recent exhibit were topographical maps on which the duration and direction of walks Long made were noted. These lines drawn on the map defined space in terms of body movement through time. Similarly in A Line of 164 Stones, A Walk of 164 Miles Long walked across Ireland, leaving a stone on his path at every mile of his trip. Such a journey necessarily implies time as well as distance. The stones serve as visual relics of the measuring of objective space through personal existence.

Long’s photographs themselves play an important role in conveying the content of his work. Often they are taken from a low angle so that the earth becomes one’s horizon. The focus on a pile of stones or a line of sticks directs one’s vision and establishes the terms of one’s orientation. In this way, the camera provides a means of sharing in Long’s perception of the landscape, as well as recording his relation to it. The expressive impact of this vision, its simple felt quality, is something which I find difficulty in describing.

––Susan Heinemann