Richard Long: Drinking the rivers of Dartmoor
Lisson Gallery, London
November 16, 2022 – January 21, 2023
For his latest exhibition at the gallery, Richard Long presents a series of text works and photographs spanning his entire practice, from the 1970s to the present day. These works chart Long’s innovative path through and alongside histories of conceptual art, centering the artist’s life-long concern with walking as an aesthetic and philosophical practice. As textual and visual documentations of walks embarked worldwide, through mountains and deserts, shorelines and grasslands, rivers and snowscapes, Long’s works give poetic form to the ineffability and ephemerality of human perceptual experience.
Text has consistently featured in the artist’s practice, with the earliest of the five works shown here produced in 1987 (titled “Desert Flowers“) and the most recent dated 2022 (“A Path of Innocence”). These works emphasise Long’s preoccupation with the physical engagement of the body in a variety of landscapes. He not only evokes the temperature and geological materiality of a given terrain, such as the fourteen rivers that flow out of Dartmoor or the lavender scents, howling coyotes and roaring winds of Joshua Tree, but additionally denotes a temporal specificity to each walk.
The varied formal structures of the text works further evidence Long’s experimental sensibility. Each of the five works here differ in their layout, with some works taking on the form of a circle and others including coloured lines of text in red, yellow, and green. Such variations, which pay equal attention to the words’ meanings and their formal attributes, reference conceptualist histories of concrete poetry.
Further, in sculpting these words into precise arrangements to produce particular rhythms, imaginaries, and affects, some of which exude a spiritual character, the text works abstractly draw on the compositional logics of Japanese haiku. At times emphasizing the meditative power of repetition, akin to a mantra, and other times conveying the profundity of simple observed moments in the outdoors, the texts function as resolutely reflexive indexes of being-in-the-world.
Also featured in the galleries are a series of photographs taken by Long on his walks all around the world, from Spain and Norway to China and the Andes. These photographs are often paired with Long’s signature textual meditations, which migrate from their typical large-scale, wall-based format into the intimate scale of the photograph. Beginning with his widely cited work, “A Line Made by Walking”, 1967, Long has for over five decades produced photographs that visually document his walks through landscapes as well as sculptures made along the way.
Such minimal sculptural interventions have included placing rocks from the existing environment into circular or linear arrangements (“Circle in the Andes”, 1972, and “River Yangtze Stone Line”, 2010), documenting the mark left by his sleeping place on a walk across Spain (“Sleeping Place Mark”, Spain, 1990) and making a line with his boot heel in the Arizona desert in 1970 (A Boot-Heel Line, Arizona, 1970).