Out of Sight: Long and Goldsworthy
Gary Snyder, poet and ecological essayist, wrote that ‘the world is our consciousness and it surrounds us’ at a time when the destructive consequences of human activity were only just beginning to take shape in the natural landscape. Snyder’s words call for us to cultivate a relationship with nature that is founded on mutual resonance rather than resourcefulness. A desire to reconnect with the earth served as a key principle behind the 1960s and 1970s ‘Land Art’ movement, which advocated for a departure from the gallery space in favour of direct interaction and exchange with the material earth. Rather than portray what is already visible in a landscape through drawing and painting, Land artists explore the earth itself as it is transformed by the artist. In so doing, the land becomes the art object, rather than its depiction. Both Richard Long (b. 1945) and Andy Goldsworthy (b. 1956) have steeped their artistic practices in the exploration of an artist-marked landscape. Interestingly enough, neither Long or Goldsworthy identify as Land Artists, instead resisting affiliation with any other artists or artistic groups. Their individualistic approaches to art-making result in deeply personal and yet universally accessible works.
Richard Long transforms the simple act of walking into a wider meditation on human presence in nature in ‘A Line Made By Walking’ (1967). In this work, Long chronicles an afternoon which he spent walking back and forth in a remote field, effectively inscribing a line into the earth with his repeated footsteps. The resulting photograph documents a moment in which human activity appears imprinted in the landscape. The symmetry of the scene imbues the moment with a sense of balance and harmony. Long’s work gives shape to Rebecca Solnit’s observation that ‘[w]alking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.’
By taking this photograph, Long acknowledges the challenge inherent in representing an experience that is fleeting and in many ways, incommunicable. Long defines a walk as ‘a spatial measurement of land on which a sculptural trace’ is left. By positioning his experience within the context of sculpture, Long bridges the gap between the expired act (his walk) and the present object (the photograph and text). Long’s photograph is a reminder of the now invisible trace of his interaction with the land, alerting us to our own transient existence and enduring memory. ‘A Line Made By Walking’ does not simply show a physical landscape, but alludes to the much more complex geography of human consciousness.
Goldsworthy’s interactions with the natural world are manifested in “natural” sculptures that range from petal-covered boulders to huts made from twigs. Like Long, Goldsworthy embraces the ephemeral nature of his works, stating, ‘[n]othing lasts. We all have to deal with loss. When I make something, in a field or street, it may vanish but it’s part of the history of those places.’ Goldsworthy documents his own process of making through photography, employing a similar tactic to Long to make it possible for his sculptures to persist beyond their natural lifespan. In works like ‘Hole in Snow’ (1979) and ‘Black (Snow-Covered) Snowball’ (1979), Goldsworthy presents materials that have been manipulated in a manner that highlights both their “naturalness” and “artificiality.” Each sculpture’s orderly patterns and immaculate presentation are clearly the result of an artistic intervention, and yet these objects do not appear completely out of place when photographed in their natural surroundings. Goldsworthy’s “arrangements” of materials found in nature form a new classification of organic beauty. In the process of making these works, Goldsworthy becomes a collaborator with the natural world.
Although vastly individual in their views about both artist and landscape, both Long and Goldsworthy’s works capture the tension that exists between humans and the natural world. As much as we may long to achieve complete harmony, our human consciousness constantly prevents us from blending into the natural world. Any human interaction with the natural world results in a mark, even one as subtle and temporary as a footprint. In their respective works, Long and Goldsworthy show their “marks” but exclude their physical bodies from the composition. A human presence lingers in each photograph, but the artists are nowhere to be found. Through their works, Long and Goldsworthy encourage us to consider the natural world and our place in it.
Quotes Obtained From:
Gary Snyder, ‘The Practice of the Wild’ (2003).
Rebecca Solnit, ‘Wanderlust: A History of Walking’ (2001).
Maddocks, ‘Andy Goldsworthy: Lying down in Times Square in the rain is bound to attract attention,’ in ‘The Guardian’. 17 August 2014. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/17/andy-goldsworthy-interview-folkestone-triennial-times-square-rain>.