This black and white photograph shows a patch of grass on which dozens of wooden sticks have been laid. The sticks are leafless and vary in size and shape, although most of them are crooked. They all point in different directions and are widely spaced so that none of them touch each other and the grass is clearly visible between them. Together they form a long rectangular shape, indicating that the arrangement must have been man-made. In the foreground of the photograph towards the bottom of the print the sticks are individually distinguishable, yet as the rectangle recedes into the distance towards to top of the print the sticks are less distinct. Underneath the photograph, on the off-white mount, the titular words ‘A LINE OF STICKS IN SOMERSET’ are printed in black.
The photograph documents a temporary sculptural work made by Richard Long using locally sourced sticks of uneven widths and lengths. The exact location in which the work was made is not known, but it was probably created in a field somewhere outside Bristol, Long’s hometown, since, as the title suggests, the piece was created in Somerset, a county which borders that city.
The angle of the photograph was carefully chosen to emphasise the linearity of the rectangle and its close resemblance to a path, recalling Long’s A Line Made by Walking 1967 (Tate AR00142), a work made by walking up and down a length of grass in a field until the grass became sufficiently flattened to photograph the resulting straight line.
Although A Line of Sticks in Somerset was created outdoors, the work closely resembles several works that Long made to be displayed inside galleries, particularly 192 Pieces of Wood 1975 (reproduced in Fuchs 1986, p.90), which consisted of 192 knobbly sticks and twigs laid out on the floor in a long rectangular arrangement. The uneven shapes and surfaces of the sticks used in both A Line of Sticks in Somerset and 192 Pieces of Wood contrast with the smooth straight willow sticks used in works such as Circle of Sticks 1973 (Tate T01783) and Willow Sticks 1980 (Tate AR00615).
A Line of Sticks in Somerset combines order and disorder, the former expressed through the work’s geometry, the latter through the natural imperfections of the knobbly sticks and their random arrangement. Long refers to this process as:
Putting order in the chaos, that’s probably a definition of human nature. It is the way you show yourself as a human being, to make a kind of order in the natural world ... I suppose my work is a meeting place of the natural world and natural materials and my human sensibility at the place I happen to be.
(Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.69.)
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986, reproduced p.66.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, p.69.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, reproduced p.178.
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.