This colour photograph shows a view of a dark rocky ridge on top of a high mountain that peaks above a layer of clouds. On the ground can be seen a straight line of carefully laid out stones that recedes along the ridge at a perpendicular angle to the picture frame. Below the photograph on the off-white paper mount are five Japanese characters, which are translated on the two lines below: ‘A LINE IN JAPAN’, handwritten in red pencil, and below this ‘MOUNT FUJI, 1979’, handwritten in graphite pencil.
The photograph documents a temporary sculptural work made by Long on top of Mount Fuji in Japan. The work involved placing small rocks from the surrounding area into a straight line of roughly uniform width that stretched for several metres in length. However, Long has explained that he had originally intended to create a different work, indicating how working directly in a landscape can be affected by conditions that are out of the artist’s control:
The sculpture A Line in Japan (1979) came about because my original idea had been to make a map work recording a circular walk around Mt Fuji, following the snow line. However, as there was no snow on the mountain at all when I arrived, I had to follow a different idea.
(Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.33.)
A Line in Japan has affinities with other straight line sculptures by Long such as A Line in Ireland 1974 (Long’s first stone line made in a landscape, reproduced in Fuchs 1986, p.54) and A Line in Bolivia 1981 (Tate T03298). Created directly in the landscape from materials in the vicinity, these sculptures are intrinsically perishable in that they are subject to constantly changing natural and human conditions. Long has explained:
I come to some mountains and I move some stones around and then I disappear. The mountains are changed, some stones are in a different place. But who has moved them and how it looks, that is not the important part. The only important thing is that the stones have been moved. They are visible but invisible as art.
(Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.85.)
Critic William Malpas has noted that ‘the line of stones is photographed from one end, the lower end, so the line stretches up the mountain, into the mist. Like the Himalayan line [A Line in the Himalayas 1975, Tate T12035], the Mount Fuju line emphasizes the sense of the infinite. The religious/Romantic reaching up into the heavens’ (William Malpas, The Art of Richard Long, Maidstone 2011, p.273). Art historian Rudi Fuchs has compared the ‘slender and open’ composition of the stones in A Line in Japan with Japanese calligraphy, a connection which is reinforced by the Japanese characters written below the photograph (Fuchs 1986, p.135). The carefully spaced stones of the sculpture also draw associations with Japanese rock gardens, in which spatial aesthetics are crucial. Long recognises these comparisons, saying ‘there are some parallels between Japanese art and my work, because nature is our common condition’, acknowledging that his interest in nature is not bound by time or national boundaries (cited in Tufnell 2007, p.106).
Some critics, such as Anne Seymour, have drawn attention to the affinities Long’s practice has with Japanese Zen Buddhism, from the artist’s interest in simplicity to his desire to work in the present moment (see Anne Seymour, Richard Long: Old World, New World, London 1988). However, although Long learnt about Zen Buddhism early in his career, he has remarked that he does not see it as a ‘big enlightenment’, and that his work and Zen philosophy share ‘just a sort of coincidental sensibility’, noting that the state of mind required to meditate is also suitable for viewing his work (cited in Tufnell 2007, p.79).
Since creating A Line in Japan Long has returned to Japan a number of times, creating such works as Mind Rock 1992 (reproduced in Wallis 2009, p.106) and A Seven Day Walk on Chokai Mountain Honshu Japan 2003 (reproduced in Patrick Elliott, Richard Long: Walking and Marking, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2007, pp.12–13).
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986, p.135, reproduced p.123.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, pp.33, 106, reproduced p.104.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, reproduced p.107.
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