108 steps is what it took me to walk the length of A Line in Norfolk by Richard Long. Walking the line is reminiscent of Long’s ground breaking work of 1967, A Line Made by Walking. Now, 50 years later, I was walking a line parallel to a work made specifically for this exhibition. A measured line made of local Norfolk Carrstone connecting the house entrance to Full Moon Circle, a piece created in 2003 for the Houghton Sculpture Garden.
Late afternoon on a sunny day, the contrast between the shiny flat surfaces and the darker linear edges of the slate carefully placed within the circle were heightened. My slow movement around Full Moon Circle caused the sunlight to flow over the surface, taking up the edges, creating shadow, the surface shifting and shimmering, truly like a full moon. Richard Long says of the piece, “In Full Moon Circle slates were placed flat to reflect the weather and the season. When a high sun moves around the sky on a summer day the circle looks white and brilliant, yet it becomes dark and shiny in the rain, and in actual moonlight it appears very different again.”
Walking through the extensive grounds, it seems the pieces are deliberately connected through the use of the archetypical line, circle, cross and spiral used by Long throughout his career. A spiral is found within the circular form of Wilderness Dreaming and again in White Deer Circle where Long used massive tree stumps dug up around the estate. ‘Sea Henge’ immediately comes to mind connecting Long to something primordial whether intentional or not.
Another circle is found in North South East West in the Stone Hall. Here we find within a circle of flint a Cornish slate cross that is found again in Houghton Cross located in the walled garden. In both crosses, the slate, rather than lain flat on the round, projects upwards toward the sky.
It is strange seeing North South East West indoors in an environment also made of stone but one elaborate in its design, with carvings from floor to stuccoed ceiling. It seems contrived and pompous next to the natural shapes of the stones within a circle that the organic softness of the flint and the hard roughness of the slate share.
The White Water Falls in the colonnades are as true to their name as Full Moon Circle. These mud drawings are executed with extreme concentration. Long likens the action to that of a musician playing a live concert. There is only one chance to get it right. For him, in the end it is purely chance that determines the results once the bucket of mud is thrown. The white on black is at times bold and forceful and at other times intricately beautiful.
In the South Wing Gallery I realize how extensively Richard Long has walked in his lifetime and how integral walking is to his life and art. Large scale photographs document walks and works created on the way either by placing rocks in a circle or a line; sometimes throwing them to create marks on the landscape. Each work created is relevant to the location.
Seeing the photos and reading the words also impress through the idea of the experience of walking done. This is not just a casual walk on the beach or 108 steps. It’s an involvement with the elements and essence of the place. A winter walk in England, Tibet or Antarctica contrasting with the heat of Mexico, the Sahara or South Africa as extremes of the spectrum.
The text works are a concise and aesthetic observation of detail with every word conjuring an image, vivid, alive.
The second gallery located in the house surprises with smaller wall works. Found pieces of wood are utilized in the shape found, perhaps cut at one time or another, sometimes worn, aged, irregular, or with rust stains where a steel band used to be. These works make a welcome contrast and show another aspect of Long’s work. There is something ritualistic and primal about the methodical daubing with mud on these pieces.
The exhibition is rounded off with display cases presenting catalogues, documentation and other publications by and about Richard Long giving an extensive documentation of his career.
The exhibition runs until 26 October 2017.
For opening times and more information visit the Houghton Hall website.