This black and white photograph shows a stretch of grass populated by daisies. In the centre of the image a dark cross-shaped mark consisting of two intersecting straight lines strikes through the grass. Below the photograph on the white mount the words ‘ENGLAND 1968’ are handwritten in graphite pencil between neatly ruled guidelines.
Richard Long created the mark by plucking the heads off daisies to create a dark, blank ‘X’ shape on the ground. The artist has explained his intentions: ‘For the “daisies” [England 1968], I remember having the idea to superimpose my own shape on a natural pattern of nature. I needed a piece of ground which had its own natural patterns, and daisies made a good black and white contrast. Then it was a question of looking around my locality and finding such a place.’ (Long 1991, p.44.) Long made England 1968 on the Bristol Downs. Although he was studying at St Martin’s School of Art in London at the time, he frequently returned to his home town of Bristol to produce work in and around the city. England 1967 1967 (Tate AL00183), for example, was executed near the Bristol Downs in Ashton Park.
The ‘X’ shape of a cross holds a number of cultural meanings, denoting a kiss, for example, or registering negation. However, it is probably its usage as an emphatic marker of place that most appealed to Long when he made England 1968. Critic Lucy Lippard has identified the ‘X’ as a kind of marker of ownership over nature, noting how it ‘has been a favourite motif for male artists’, a means of imposing the unnatural over the natural (Lucy Lippard, Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory, New York 1983, p.52). Long has since used crosses elsewhere, in works such as Reflections in the Little Pigeon River 1970 (reproduced Tufnell 2007, p.54) and Half Tide 1971 (reproduced Long 1991, p.94). In works such as Dartmoor 1972 (reproduced Long 1991, p.28) and Crossing Marks, The Sahara 1988 (reproduced Long 1991, p.220) he used crosses to signify the place where two paths meet.
England 1968 relates closely to A Line Made by Walking 1967 (Tate AR00142), which Long made by walking up and down a patch of grass until it was flattened into a straight line, which he then photographed. Both works were inherently ephemeral in that the altered landscape would have eventually grown back to its natural state. For England 1968 the cross was created by subtraction rather than addition and would have lasted only as long as it took the daisies to grow back. Long’s interest in transience reflected an anti-materialist mode of art making that echoed the concerns of contemporary conceptual artists such as Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt and Douglas Huebler who were working in North America at the same time. The so-called ‘dematerialised’ art that they made, which had little or no permanent physical form, sought to circumvent the art market and served to critique the values of materialist and consumerist society. However, for many of these artists the work’s material impermanence was quickly retrieved through photography, which then served as a document of the work that could be displayed, bought and sold.
After creating the cross shape, Long documented the work photographically. He enlarged and mounted the original print for display in 1969, acting upon the advice of New York gallerist John Gibson (see Wallis 2009, p.46). This may account for the slightly out-of-focus appearance of the image. In 1970 Long reproduced the photograph on a private view card for a solo exhibition at the Dwan Gallery in New York alongside a reproduction of A Sculpture Left by the Tide 1970 (Tate AL00184) and a postcard on which the legend of Silbury Hill was printed (see Tate AL00214).
The title of this work, and that of England 1967 (Tate AL00183), is unusual in that it only includes the name of the country and the year in which it was made, rather than offering a description of the work, such as A Line Made by Walking 1967 (Tate AR00142) or A Sculpture Left by the Tide 1970 (Tate AL00184). After making works in his back garden (see, for example, Turf Circle 1966, Tate P07148) Long began to make work that ‘progressed to the landscape of England, first’ (Long cited in Tufnell 2007, p.114). In this way the titles of England 1967 and England 1968 seem to assert Long’s identity as an English artist.
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986, p.70, reproduced p.16.
Richard Long (ed.), Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, p.44, reproduced p.27.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, pp.46, 177, 195, reproduced pp.45, 196.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, pp.59, 113, reproduced p.22.
Ruth Burgon and Katya Johnson
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.