Richard Long is a contemporary British artist whose work exists within the tradition of Land Art. He graduated from Central Saint Martins and is a recipient of the prestigious Turner Prize. Land Art, coined by pioneering artist Robert Smithson, emerged as a development of the minimalist and conceptual art movements, as a way to examine art work, often sculptural within a space back in nature, both within and outside of the museum. One of Smithson’s most well-known pieces is titled Spiral Jetty, a work made by placing stones in an unnatural shape that protrudes into the Great Salt Lake in Utah from the bank. In 1971, he expounded on the idea of using a physical landscape from which to “build directly out of the ground of the site,” as a response to the history of exhibiting artworks in museums.
Land art, with its unique, site-specific quality is usually impossible to purchase or collect, subverting and questioning the role of the gallery, museum and market. There is a performative aspect in the creation and appreciation of the work, where the piece exists because of the artist’s intention and physical labour, and the movement and work is then visible and retraced by the viewer’s eye, whether in person, or via a photographic image of the work. This is especially true for works like Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, and for Long’s A Line in the Himalayas.
Intrinsic in Land Art is a scrutiny of man’s relationship with his environment. Where a critique on environmental damage is not explicit in these works, the theme of man exercising his will on the earth, and changing his surroundings as a direct result of his intentions pervades the work of artists like Long. Long, as a contemporary artist, produces work that further deconstructs the genre by avoiding mechanical intervention in his artwork. Where other artists used construction machines to create sculptures by transporting and placing natural materials in a particular formation, Long is known for his practice of wearing lines into the ground with his feet using the motion of repeatedly walking across the same path. The resulting pieces have a gentle quality to them, usually in a form of neat, simple line that may or may not exist days, months or years after they have been created and documented. The presence of a man-made mark in the landscape also heightens the viewer’s attention to the positions of the other naturally occurring materials in the frame, eliciting a meditative response on the aesthetics of nature and chance, in juxtaposition to human agency.