Wandering Around Richard Long ; Landscape on the Page. Notes from Arnolfini’s Artist Book Collection

A Critical Re-valuation of A Proposed Publication by Marie Yates has to be the most exciting find in Arnolfini’s artist book collection for me. Considering Richard Long’s current show, this book feels pivotal in how the ideas of landart are shown in artist bookmaking and publishing and the idea of the radical pastoral. Marie Yates thinks ‘The notion of landscape/art discourse is problematic to say the least’. A Critical Re-valuation of A Proposed Publication is interesting for many reasons. For one the format is complex, we have within the document a proposed artist’s book, the pages of which are printed sequentially within it. The publication then critiques the proposed artists book by delving deeper into complex ideologies around our idea of landscape.

In Yate’s view ‘the use of landscape in art (a conjuncture of some historical depth) represents the placing together of two inadequately theorised sets of ideology…’ the publication goes some way to re-dress the imbalance. The proposed book outlines Yates theoretical standpoint around conflicting prevailing notions of landscape. She presents sets of opposing ideas in fours, like a compass around sections of word and image. The texts investigate our notions of Nature and Culture as binary opposites in western culture. In the UK there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ landscape, completely untouched by humans. Landscape is the product of ‘unlimited exploitation…of Nature by man, and of the enduring exploitation.. of men of one class by men of another.’ The ideas of Nature and Culture are in fact inseparable and contextualised by each other, making the ‘outside’ a no-less (if not more-so) contested space to make art than the ‘inside’. Yates reflects on landscape/art that ‘the Idea of Nature is appropriated in a paradoxical manner as both subject and object, source and residue.‘ The very format of the publication reflects these paradoxes, and the difficulty in adequately documenting such work on the format of the page. By employing simple one-word opposites she can talk about the idea of landscape/art in terms of gender, class, power and labour; within a simple minimal layout. (Marie Yates was part of The Artist Placement Group and showed in Over Land in 1975 at Arnolfini with Phillipa Ecobichon, Hamish Fulton and Richard Long.)

‘This was a precious moment in the history of art – the time of Art & Languge’s early musings – when art really was what the artist said it was. Thus, seven photographs could actually be sculpture’

Clive Phillpot extract from ‘Richard Long’s books and the transmission of sculptural images’ 1987

Five Days In The West Country : Wandering : Spring : A Hill Without A Name Veiled In Morning Mist by Nicholas Stanley-Adams takes the format of a word and image documentation of a walk, such as the books presented here by Hamish Foulton, Richard Long or Gerard Hemsworth, but intercepts with poetry and an excerpt from the ancient tale of Tristan and Isolt. I like how Stanley-Adams walk produces a strange otherworldly place, rooted in the landscape, rather than a sense of predetermined conquering. Very different to Hamish Foulton’s large scale photo book documenting his walking. Fulton characterises himself as a ‘walking artist’. In fact he has stated ‘If I do not walk, I cannot make a work of art,’ summing up his thinking by stating ‘no walk, no work’. (I think we can therefore assume this book work functions as straight documentation(!))

I really enjoyed finding Les Pins by Bernard Lassus, a small publication that takes Lassus’s 1960’s documentary style photography and presents it as a stitched together Frankenstiein landscape at eye level with an accompanying text describing the forests inhabitant (a nobel savage as a woman that lives in and uses the pines). Lassus’s original photographic project was about ‘dematerialising the real environment’ (in this case a French Pine forest,) but in the hands of the small artists publishers Coracle Press, the photos reconfigure into a romantic landscape.

Two Pipes Fourteen Locations by Peter Downsbrough is pleasing, if slightly stark. The two sculptures of specific dimensions, move from a suburban to a rural locations photographically documented across the pages. Although it seems dry, it is insistent and repetitious and humble, and sort of ridiculous. The sculptures themselves are quite odd, not quite ghosts of failed town planning, not quite unfinished rural pylon, but somehow never feel out of context. They use the unique form of the book to appear in my places at once.

At the time he was making them in the late 60’s and 70’s Ed Ruscha considered his book works to his better artworks, and changed in turn what an artists book could be. For example, Every Building On The Sunset Strip’s use of photography as a form of map-making or study of place is more conceptual, than documentary. Clive Phillpot, director of the library at MoMA, notes that some of Richard Long’s books owe a debt to Ruscha’s, bearing the trademark of a blank page in the middle of a sequence. Their deadpan, cool aesthetic was at the time radically different. (I couldn’t help then including None Of The Buildings On Sunset Strip by Jonathan Monk.) Another beautiful long fold out, photographic book Flower Arrangement For Bruce Nauman by Dennis Oppenheim is also a pun. This time on Nauman’s work ‘Flour Arrangement’ (where he quite literally arranges flour on the floor) and on the hypnotic nature of panoramic landscape photography.

‘ You have to get over the colour green.’ Wrote Wallace Stegner about the aesthetics of Western Landscape. ‘You have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale.’

Extract from Urban / Wild by Nathan Coley

South West Coast of England by Gerard Hemsworth seems to be an example of an artist’s book as a straight piece of documentation of a performance. I assume from the title and compass co-ordinates on the photographs, that the artist is taking photos in each direction from a spot on the south west coast. Clive Phillpot reviewed the title in 1972 for Studio International, alongside other new books by Ed Ruscha, Sol Lewitt and John Latham. He concluded ‘that artists are using the book format not only because it has acquired a new status as a convenient record of events as a result of the advent of performance art and evanescent artworks, but also as a specific visual medium with its own possibilities and limitations, which also happens to be activated by the ‘reader’.

A youth group sailed the artwork to the gallery, the act being documented in Voile/Toile Toile/Voile by Daniel Buren. Canvases doubled as sails, that floated down to the museum directly from sailmakers to then be hung on walls as artwork. Cute, right? I really like Rough Sea by Susan Hiller. The book collects holiday postcards showing rough seas. The images are slightly uncanny en masse, the landscape refusing to be horizontal.

CLEAR SKY by Bruce Nauman documents the sky over the desert resulting in a photobook which appears to be just square pages of colour. Its a very simple and elemental idea, which makes the book almost feel like a material in itself. Nauman then made LA AIR, which shows the stark difference in colour in the polluted air above the city. The two books become a perverse colour-field reference book They seem to work so well because the concept and form combine do something else to the photos, making the page feel infinite rather than pictorial.


Extract from A 118 Mile Walk Under the Sky, 1980 from Twelve Works by Richard Long

A repetitive sequence in Hand Made Containers by Tom Beldon shows the artist making hand gestures, then translating a glyph on paper, and then again larger onto the wall using his hands. I can’t find anything out about this artist, but I think he is an american ceramicist. He doesn’t seem to be making containers either, just demonstrating shapes. It seems like there is some process of translation or dematerialiation of language intended but i’m not sure to what end, but I just like how of the era it is, with the artists hair and clothes. I also like to imagine he was alone and using a self timer.

Work No. 88 (42): A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball by Martin Creed exists as much as an idea or proposal as it does as a physical piece, and therefore owes alot to some of the earlier 70‘s works shown. It has a similar humour to Nauman, Ruscha or Oppenhiem’s work. Its a one liner, and probably not a very clever one. But a screwed up piece of paper is also a byword for a failed idea, or a bad idea. The simple sculptural action or gesture seems fitting and the of sense ‘doing something dumb anyway’ still feels quite fresh and experimental, lo-fi and D-I-Y.

I particularly like It Is So Green Outside It Is Difficult To Leave The Window by Shelagh Wakely. The small book documents the arrangement of furniture in a small unassuming paved city garden of a terraced house. Wakely plays with a narrative of the house’s inhabitants, and its unclear how much the artist is involved in the movements of objects. Its a funny book, not least because the changes in the garden are observed over three years, and to be honest not that much happens. I think, maybe, Wakely is employing humour to talk about the dry documents artists were producing at the time. She manages to find something more playful, narrative led and to my mind interesting just in her back garden. The result is gently poetic, with an economy of means (a garden and its furniture, washing, a camera and a great title). There is a real strangeness to it, she makes something from nothing.

‘Ploughed fields beckon in the stone.

Those oak leaves are made of copper,

That spiders web is made of oak,

And we made of flesh Without analogy.’

From Analogies, Witches Point by Caroline Tisdall, 1987.

Tisdall was Joseph Beuys’s collaborator, a poet and critic.

*A full bibliography with more information about these publications can be found at http://www.nomadicreadingroom.com

Wandering Around Richard Long ; Landscape on the Page. Notes from Arnolfini’s Artist Book Collection

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