Monday, June 29, 2009

Straight Miles and Meandering Miles

The catalogue to the Richard Long exhibition Heaven and Earth, which I discussed here recently, draws attention to Long's early career at art school, when he first developed the ideas that have motivated his art ever since. Long has recalled one important influence at the time was John Cage. He saw Cage lecture at the Saville Theatre in November 1966: 'It was all about chance and eccentric lateral thinking and humour - all sorts of John Cage ideas which were new to me.' A year later he experienced a recorded lecture, Indeterminacy, in which Cage told sixty stories in sixty minutes, varying the pace according to the length of the story. As Clarrie Wallis points out, this procedure is similar to that used in Long's map work A Walk of Four Hours and Four Circles (1972), where concentric circles were each walked in one hour (the smallest circle slowest, the largest fastest).

Thinking of avant garde composers in this context, I was reminded of La Monte Young's Compositions 1960 - an early example of conceptual art as instructions, e.g.
#2: Build a fire in front of the audience…
or
#5: Turn a butterfly (or any number of butterflies) loose in the performance area. When the composition is over, be sure to allow the butterfly to fly away outside…
One of these compositions sounds like a Richard Long walk:
#10: Draw a straight line and follow it
You could imagine one of Long's early map works re-written in this way as instructions for an imaginary walker:

A Ten Mile Walk, England, 1968
1. Pick a starting point x
2. Pick a round number y
3. Draw a straight line from x of length y in a direction that it is possible to walk
4. Walk the line

Of course the fact that Long has done his walks is the whole point. It is his landscape experience that we are presented with, even though we can accompany him in our imagination (just as we can join Gary Snyder on the riprap trail, or Basho on the narrow road). His work is not participative in the style of contemporary relational aesthetics. Still, while I'm on this road not taken, here are four more Richard Long walks recast as instructions. They might come in useful if you are short of ideas this summer, and, adapted for cities, they could even be used as the basis for some Situationist dérives...

A Walk of Four Hours and Four Circles, England, 1972
1. Draw a circle a on the map of diameter x
2. Superimpose a second circle b centred on the same spot with diameter 3x
3. Superimpose 2 more circles c and d with diameters 5x and 7x
4. Spend exactly an hour walking each of the four circles

A Hundred Tors in a Hundred Hours, Devon, England, 1976
1. Pick a distinctive common land form
2. Locate a round number of them, x
3. Walk to all of them in exactly x hours

A Five Day Walk, England, 1980
1. Choose a route that is x miles
2. Walk 1/15 of this distance x on the first day
3. On the second and subsequent days walk 2/15, 3/15, 4/15 and 5/15 of the distance

Straight Miles and Meandering Miles, England, 1985
1. Choose a long distance walk
2. Map out a certain number of locations where it is possible to walk a straight mile
3. Walk the route by, alternatively, normal paths and straight lines

1 comment:

Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

Reminds me a bit of Chesterton's Rolling English Road, which I'm sure you know, and which is a lot more than the comic drinking song you might expect.