In the 1980s, the Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt founded the term ‘strollology’, which means, quite simply, the science of going for a stroll. Burckhardt states that ‘Strollology wants to gain a different understanding of time and space…[it] sees spaces as a construct of perception – hence as ambiguous’.
Burckhardt’s term suggests a very ‘human’ appropriation of the environment and a concurrent re-configuration of time and space that is embedded within the practice of Richard Long. ‘Time and Space’ is a major solo exhibition of sculpture, drawing, photography and text works by the renowned artist and is presented across all floors of Bristol’s Arnolfini. Indeed, Long has made both an art and a science out of walking, and it is this tension between qualitative and quantitative modes of experiencing, measuring and representing the natural environment that is evident throughout the exhibition.
Any conception of nature as unruly and irrational is countered by Long’s artistic process, an aspect that is highlighted at the exhibition’s opening. The first gallery presents a series of text-based sculptures whereby Long parallels the act of walking with that of storytelling. In ‘Muddy Walk’ (1987), the process of ambling through the countryside is quantified and contained within the cool conceptualism of printed text: ‘A 184 mile walk from the mouth of the River Avon to a source of the River Mersey casting a handful of River Avon tidal mud into the River Thames the River Severn the River Trent and the River Mersey along the way’. There is something undoubtedly structured and ritualistic about Long’s movements and his method of recording them, such that these works function as instructions as much as documents.
In the same room a new work, ‘Muddy Water Falls’ (2015), transports Long’s casting of mud into the spaces of the gallery. The work refers to an on-going action of Long’s, that of mark-making, such that this natural material is re-formulated into the artist’s paint. Here, the floor and ceiling of the gallery become the frame and ground of Long’s painting; the work is as much an act of defining nature as it is about documenting it.
Upstairs is a series of photographic works, which combine text and image together in a framed, poetic relationship. Language becomes a device of containment within this context; a futile mechanism utilised at the meeting point between the individual and his or her natural environment. Moreover, Long’s use of the photograph is a literal framing of nature within the didactic grid of the camera lens.
The exhibition’s highlight forges another meeting point within the gallery. ‘Time and Space’ (2015) is a large cross-section assembled out of Cornish slate; the simplicity of its construction, at once a gesture towards natural material as well as a pointedly human intervention, evidences the inherent difficulty of introducing elements of nature into the coldness of the white cube gallery space. This is not to suggest that Long is merely a translator or documenter of human engagements with the natural world, however his work continues to present the uneasy relationship between this long-opposed binary, one that is often more constrictive than freeing.