Richard Long Masterclass Project, Day 3

Art, Context, Exhibition, public Art

The whole project is actually called ‘Lines of Desire‘, but was billed to us as a masterclass. What this actually entailed was a group visit to Richard Long’s retrospective at the Arnolfini on Tuesday, plus going to see Boyhood Line on the Clifton Downs; and an invitation-only lecture by him on Wednesday at the Uni, which lasted slightly under an hour.

It was my second visit to the exhibition, and I did get more from it, especially as we had an introduction to each gallery with more background information on the work. Basically, his art begins and ends with walking. To some extent, the walking IS the sculpture. Photos of interventions in the landscape using found materials are another form of the artwork, and his text pieces are about the concept, the idea. When he was studying and starting work in the Sixties and Seventies, avant-garde artists were attempting to move away from art as objects in galleries, making work that was harder to buy and sell. They were focusing on the ideas of art rather than its commercial value, and wanted to make the viewer do some work, using the imagination.

Richard Long is that rare beast, an internationally-acclaimed artist who still lives and works were he grew up – in Bristol. He uses specific materials in his gallery work, such as River Avon mud, or stones from two particular quarries. His mark-making palette consists of circles, lines and crosses, used by humanity for millennia and situating himself in the landscape.

The upstairs vitrines showed samples of his book works, and I learnt about his print works in the gallery bookshop. Then we set off to find the recent piece Boyhood Line, which took a lot of wandering around on the Downs in the glorious sunshine. Oh, how we suffer for our art.

Wednesday started with Reflections, various questions we had to answer individually and in groups towards devising our collaborative responses. I liked the text pieces we produced and decided to work further with these texts and the photographs we’d all submitted from the first day’s campus exploration.

I took two pages of notes from the lecture and found it interesting to hear his own perspective on his work, as opposed to where others would place it. He emphasised the walk as the sculpture, saying that he is an opportunist, producing work in the moment and enjoying the freedom to do so. His works are often ephemeral, he will sometimes scatter the materials used after documenting with a photograph, but other pieces are still extant after twenty years. He does not signpost them and is not bothered whether they are seen or not, preferring them to be anonymous. He is interested in alignments and measurements, and stresses the fact that his art is not conceptual as the works are real physical acts or events.

Lots more to think about. An intense few days so far! In terms of my own work, perhaps less of a focus on things, making objects – I have indeed worked out how to record with my tablet, and save to Soundcloud. I may be working on my first GoogleSlide show to go up on the Media Wall in Commons building… I have plenty of ideas as to how to incorporate these new ideas into my practice this year, but for now, a few photos to end with.

Richard Long at the Arnolfini - text piece documenting a walk - or an idea.

Richard Long at the Arnolfini – text piece documenting a walk – or an idea.

Richard Long at the Arnolfini - a text piece referencing Bob Dylan, as several do. It may look like a concrete poem, but it definitely isn't one - he said.

Richard Long at the Arnolfini – a text piece referencing Bob Dylan, as several do. It may look like a concrete poem, but it definitely isn’t one – he said.

Richard Long at the Arnolfini - the group exploring gallery 3

Richard Long at the Arnolfini – the group exploring gallery 3

Richard Long at the Arnolfini - how walking is sculpture, in Artspeak

Richard Long at the Arnolfini – how walking is sculpture, in Artspeak

Looking for a white line on the Downs... and finding plenty 1

Looking for a white line on the Downs… and finding plenty 1

Looking for a white line on the Downs... and finding plenty 2

Looking for a white line on the Downs… and finding plenty 2

Looking for a white line on the Downs... and finding plenty 3 - Found it!

Looking for a white line on the Downs… and finding plenty 3 – Found it!

Boyhood Line, Richard Long, Clifton Down... this one has a plaque

Boyhood Line, Richard Long, Clifton Down… this one has a plaque

The stones are already disappearing into the grass

The stones are already disappearing into the grass

Group work towards Lines of Desire outcomes... I want to edit it further as a poem...

Group work towards Lines of Desire outcomes… I want to edit it further as a poem…

Context

Art, Ceramics, Context, Exhibition

So what makes 42 tomato seedlings an Art Installation rather than a stall at a village fair?

The answer is intention and context. My intention was always to create Art, to be viewed and considered by an audience. Using living plants was always going to be slightly risky but was a vital part of the symbolism of this piece.

The disposable coffee cups they are growing in were collected by me every time I bought a tea or coffee when I was working in the studio. I knew I wanted to use these cups, but for a long time wasn’t sure how. The dimpled texture and bright colours appealed to me, along with the simple message enjoy with a smiley curve. They were stacking up on my windowsill over the months while I was dealing with my emotions around the illness and death of several friends.

pots stacked up and waiting for Spring

pots stacked up and waiting for Spring

In one of my moments of reverie staring out of the window the title came to me, Every Smile Bears Fruit, and I knew they would be perfect for growing seedlings. Tomatoes were the obvious choice, fast-growing and bearing edible fruit the same year.

seeds planted just after the equinox...

seeds planted just after the equinox…

The problem then was timing. I had to work backwards from the exhibition opening and work out when to plant the seeds. I settled on the day after the Spring Equinox, and very soon was delighting in the first little sprouts.

After two weeks I replanted any pots that weren’t showing seedlings, and watched with some trepidation as they all raced away – would they grow too much and all need re-potting before the exhibition? And watering became a regular part of my routine, along with turning and checking.

Tomato seedlings for 'Every Smile Bears Fruit' installation...

Tomato seedlings for ‘Every Smile Bears Fruit’ installation…

When it came to the exhibition set-up, I still wasn’t sure how I was going to display them, but I did know the area of the gallery I wanted to use. Donna and I struggled to move the heavy sideboard that was in that area, then I considered the options. In my original exhibition planning I’d specified shelves, but when it came to the day I decided that the floor was best. There are glass panels on the side of the stairs so the first view of the installation is at eye level.

Tomato seedlings 'Every smile Bears Fruit' installation

Tomato seedlings ‘Every smile Bears Fruit’ installation

I arranged the plants into curves, echoing the smiles on the cups, and mixing up the colours. The new green of the plants, and the smell they gave off, added to the whole ambience of the exhibition and delighted everyone who came to the Private View.

The final part of the Art context was my instruction that I wanted a photograph of everyone who bought a plant, holding it up and smiling, to go on the website as a record of the piece. These will be added to the Smile Project page on this site and I hope that people will send me photographic updates as their plants flower and fruit.

It is artwork with a temporal component, that needs visual documentation. It is continually changing and will eventually cease to be art. I am inspired by the Earth Art movement, artists such as Richard Long and Chris Drury, in which photographic documentation is often all that remains. Rather than using found natural materials or a repetitive action, I have used growing plants.

'Remember Love' Head pot, stoneware fired with local clay decoration; rosemary plant

‘Remember Love’ Head pot, stoneware fired with local clay decoration; rosemary plant

I think this may be an integral part of my future art practice. I planted up two of my head pots for this exhibition with plants that were meaningful and necessary to the titles (Pansy for Thoughtful and Rosemary for Remember Love); and my next exhibition piece for the Royal United Hospital project (Fusion July-October 2015) also features a planted head pot.

Watch this space.