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You can’t help but wonder why a Richard Long exhibition is rooting itself in the grubby streets of London. With subject matter so interwoven with man’s experience in the natural world, why choose a monochrome concrete box off Edgware Road to show it off?

Upon entering the Lisson Gallery, it becomes apparent that the renowned land artist’s current preoccupation is with circles, a motif present throughout his lifetime of work as well as one which is universally recognisable and symbolic.

A circle of flint stones is arranged on the floor in radiating lines; a mud work streaks the wall in a large crescent; a 2002 work From Circle to Circle from Space to Earth is advertised adjacent; and a photographic work showing Brazilian palm leaves arranged into a circular mound hangs near the entrance.

Although diverse in media, these works’ connection to nature are more than subliminal. It may seem cosmopolitan to stare at some shapes on a gallery wall or meditate on an obscure ornamental sculpture, but Long always asks more from us. There is undoubtedly a strong cosmological and evolutionary/narrative vein to these works; circles represent the cycle of life, the shape of the planets and the solar system, as well as evoke the unity and wholeness, the perfect Eden of the natural world. Flint Wheel’s stones (2018) seem to have fallen to earth from space, or perhaps have a vertebral, anthropomorphic connotation. By grounding these outwardly shallow works in his experience of the natural world they come across with a lot more gravity.

So, he’s chosen a concrete box to bring us back to nature… This is nothing unusual for the land artist who often conceives his works in unusual outdoor locations yet sees the gallery viewer as fundamental to its ultimate realisation.

There is a definite sense of intimacy in this gallery. The concrete box feels a bit poky and prohibitive with five works slid alongside each other. As a viewer, their power seems to fall a bit short; it seems that the Lisson Gallery is filled over its capacity. This crowding undermines the importance of the individual works and without any captions (but for the exhibition statement) they are potentially lost on someone who is unfamiliar with the artist.

I find myself wanting for another few rooms that could run a video documenting the process of making the works, which would enable greater understanding and moreover sales for the commercial motivations of the gallery. Perhaps Long could have filmed the journey to Brazil to make my favourite work of the exhibition (A Circle in the Amazon 2016), yet we only see one gentle imprint on the jungle. Or, he could use film to enlighten the viewer as to the making of his mud work (Gravity Crescent 2018). After having seen similar videos I was able to engage with Long’s work on a much stronger level. The viewer is unable to appreciate the dynamism of this work or its display of the artist’s link with nature without some contextual background.

It is possible to argue that more focus on the context of the works’ making compromises the power of what he has chosen to display- yet isn’t Long all about bringing us back to nature, and showing this narrative between man and nature? The nuances of the works and the subjection of the viewer can only be clarified with more information- the hanging of the exhibition doesn’t convey Long’s intention enough.


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