Materiality and Dematerialisation / Richard Long

Lecture notes from 30th October 2017

Dematerialisation describes how in contemporary art the object is losing significance as the concept itself becomes the artwork.

Richard Long describes himself as a sculptor despite his work being largely non-physical. For example “a line made by walking” now exists only as a photograph, losing the materiality of ‘traditional sculpture’. It can also be argued that the act of walking backwards and forwards to create the line is the art (the sculpture?) and the title of the piece reflects this. If the image was taken away leaving just the title, would the effect be the same?

Richard Long “A Line Made by Walking” – 1967

A similar idea is explored in the piece “Untitled”, more commonly known as “Ben Nevis Hitch-Hike”. The ‘sculpture’ here was the journey itself, although the only documentation of this artwork is photos of the sky and and the ground taken at each stop. This raises interesting questions about the documentation of non-material work. For many, the photos would be the ‘artwork’, so does this change the intention/idea of the piece? However, if there was no documentation at all would the artwork even be artwork? Is there any point in doing this invisible work if there is no proof that it has been done? And should art be about ‘proving yourself’ to an audience?

Richard Long “Untitles” or “Ben Nevis Hitch-Hike” – 1967

This clearly relates to my London tube map journey. Is the act of travelling and collecting the key part?

Francis Alys also explored this idea of journey as artwork in his 1997 piece “The Loop”, in which he spent the commission money from “Insite” on travelling from Tijuana, Mexico to the exhibition in San Diego without crossing the Mexico-US border. He travelled to Australia, then travelled up the Pacific Rim then through Alaska and Canada before reaching the United States. In teh exhibition this journey was presented in the form of a postcard, although the true “artwork” was the journey itself which highlighted the difficulty of Mexican citizens trying to enter the United States.

"In order to go from Tijuana to San Diego without crossing the Mexico/United States border, I followed a perpendicular route away from the fence and circumnavigated the globe, heading 67 degrees South East, North East and South East again until I reached my departure point. The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artists."
Francis Alys “The Loop” – 1997

“The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artist”

Other works by Alys, such as “The Modern Procession” focused not on the acts themselves (in this case a parade of over 100 people carrying reproductions of ‘masterpieces’) but on the rumours/stories that these acts created. What peopleĀ said about the artworks are more important than the artworks themselves, therefore making these words the artworks. This raises difficulties as the artist completely loses control. Although he has full control over the things that create the buzz, the buzz itself is impossible to track so the artist can never know to what extent he was successful. The only way is via publications which don’t necessarily provide an accurate/full picture. This kind of relates back to Richard Long’s journey’s; if they aren’t recorded in some way, what is the point? Here, however, there is very little way to record. But does this matter? I don’t know!!!!!

Francis Alys “The Modern Procession” – 2002


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