This work consists of two parts mounted on an off-white background: a black and white photograph of a rocky landscape in which a curvilinear arrangement of pebbles can be seen on the ground near the bottom of the image and, above this photograph, a careful pencil drawing of the same labyrinthine shape, underneath which the following words are handwritten in pencil in both Gaelic and in English:
IN 2000 BC THIS LABYRINTH DRAWING WAS
CUT IN A GIANT GRANITE STONE BY ST. KEVIN’S
ROAD IN THE WICKLOW MOUNTAINS
CO. WICKLOW, IRELAND
Beneath this text, also in Gaelic and English, are the words ‘CONNEMARA SCULPTURE, IRELAND 1971’ along with the artist’s signature.
The arrangement of pebbles seen in the photograph is a sculpture made by Richard Long in Connemara on the west coast of Ireland, made using stones from the local beach. Long has described this part of Ireland as ‘my type of landscape, a sort of stony, wet desert, also with a lot of nice people and a lot of humour and beautiful music’ (Long 1991, p.249). The artist has made many other works in Ireland, including A Circle in Ireland 1975 (Tate AL00203) and Roisin Dubh – A Slow Air 1976 (Tate P03132). Long has explained where the idea for Connemara Sculpture came from:
I’d gone to the museum in Dublin and had seen that particular image on an early rock carving, a sacred stone. I drew it in my notebook. Then, a week later, when I was in the west of Ireland and wanted to make a sculpture out of beach pebbles, I had that image in my notebook.
(Long 1991, p.52.)
The stone from which Long sketched the labyrinthine design is known as the Hollywood stone, named after the area of Ireland from which it originates, Lockstown Upper, near Hollywood in County Wicklow. The original stone is now in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin (though since 2005 has been on long term loan to the visitor centre at Glendalough, County Wicklow), and is variously interpreted as dating from the Neolithic period or Bronze Age.
The shape of the design on the stone – and replicated in Connemara Sculpture – is typically known as a seven-circuit labyrinth, since the lines create seven concentric rings. It is a labyrinth rather than a maze because there is a single direct route in and out, meaning that if it were scaled up into a walled path it would be impossible to get lost. This form of seven-ringed labyrinth, as art critic Lucy Lippard notes, dates back to the third-millennium BC and is best known from Crete, although it has been found world-wide, ‘in the Mediterranean, Scandanavia, India, the Balkans, Britain, Java, and the southwestern U.S. Everywhere it symbolises initiation and birth, death and rebirth – the return to the centre, or womb’ (Lippard 1983, p.146).
By the Middle Ages the labyrinth had been adopted by Christianity and taken to represent pilgrimages and spiritual journeys. Since much of Long’s work involves walking long distances (see for example Tate T01720 and Tate AL00216), the artist may have used the labyrinth in this work as a symbol for long journeys. In A Line the Length of a Straight Walk From the Bottom to the Top of Silbury Hill 1970 (see Tate AL00214), Long used the spiral form to represent the length of a walk. Similarly, the lines of this labyrinth coil the length of a walk into a single symbolic form. Lippard notes that in the seven-circuit labyrinth the ‘walker swings back and forth from left (clockwise, against the sun, death) to right (sunwise, life), which is one reason why labyrinths are often called Troy Towns or Troy games (troy means “turning”). The word Troy also relates the labyrinth to the founding or birth of cities’ (Lippard 1983, p.146).
Long’s work often draws on ancient sites and signs, as in this work and Silbury Hill 1970–1 (Tate AL00214), for example. However, he is wary of stressing direct affinities between prehistoric art and the work he makes:
I actually hate that approach to my work. It is very academic. I was interested in landscape art long before I saw Stonehenge. You have to consider Stonehenge and all the circles in Britain, they came about from a completely different culture, for different reasons. They were social, religious art. They were made by society. I make my work as an individual. There are enormous differences.
(Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, p.80.)
Lucy Lippard, Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory, New York 1983, p.129, reproduced p.155.
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986, pp.132–3, reproduced p.64.
Richard Long (ed.), Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, p.52, reproduced p.54.
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