Time and Space
Richard Long's homecoming show - the artist has lived in the area most of his life and this exhibition features a number of pieces across all of his different practises from almost fifty years of his work. Over the five galleries and featuring in a couple of the communal spaces of the Arnolfini, Bristol's premier contemporary public art institution, Long presents sculptural work, small wall based finger print pieces on drift wood, significant text work and photography. The last of these being amongst the first thing you see - A Line In The Himalayas has been blown up to wall size by reception. This is a photograph from 1975 where the artist created, as the title implies, a drawn line of rocks in a straight formation leading to a distant snow capped peak around the Everest Base Camp. In black and white it is a particularly dark piece making the white snow all the more striking. I crouched down explaining it to a four year old and she feigned some interest but the splattered muddy wall in the main gallery was more arresting.
The use of Avon mud has been a re-occuring material in the artist's output. Despite being one of the most travelled artists to have ever lived working on all seven continents and with recorded walks totalling many thousands of miles, his affection, return and constant base of the West Country make this a logical resource. Calling to mind his Heaven and Earth installations at Tate Britain a few years ago, here he has splashed the river mud over both black and white painted gallery walls.
The exhibition has a large number of text pieces on the walls too - vinyl letters, usually in his typical Gill Sans font, poetically recounting various walks of various lengths and challenges in numerous countries and fashions. One such walk notates each passing or noticing of seeing something red - a bird, a plough, a sunset, etc. Others are more conceptional even from their start - a walk as long as the the river Avon over a couple of days.
The central new sculptural piece from where the exhibition takes its name is on the first floor and X genuinely marks the spot. The cross completely fills the floor space and is made from Cornish slate, hundreds of jagged ended cubic lengths, perhaps 150mm in height and width. It is one of his pieces you physically have to walk around to come and go into other galleries - of course purposefully so, it is a very different experience to coming across one of his remote field sculptures, finding a line or a circle in a deserted natural environment.
These equally transient sculptures are at the whim of weather, animals, even glaciation to disperse their stones - instead of guarded by invigilators and then carefully packed away - but for the moment he leaves them and captures their form in a photograph; well, these are the first of all the Long works I ever fell for. Essentially these are actions taken in a place by chance and their appropriation of immediate material; twigs, stones, water, snow, is entirely in keeping with the landscape within which they sit.
Much has been written about walking as art and as a practitioner of both Long is a Turner Prize winning lynchpin to any wider discussion as to what sculpture constitutes and the potential physicality of conceptualism with him is literary played out in footsteps. This is a show displaying most of the varying styles of Long's different work and though I don't take to the drift wood pieces half hidden away in the fifth gallery, this is a great introduction to one of the country's most enduring artists.
The show continues into the Autumn and there is both a talk with the artist planned for the end of October and an off-site commission exploring other locations of the artist's youth. With the Arnolfini being a public institution, a limited edition print has been created with the artist to further the work of the gallery.
http://www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/richard-long-time-and-space until November 15th