Summary

This work consists of a black and white postcard and a black and white photograph mounted onto a piece of white paper on which are five lines of typewritten text. The landscape-oriented postcard, which is mounted near the top of the piece of paper, is horizontally split into two halves: the top half consists of a black and white photograph of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire while the bottom half contains a long printed text entitled ‘THE LEGEND OF SILBURY HILL’. The photograph mounted at the bottom of the page shows what looks like a gallery space in which a large, uniform spiral made out of a white powdery substance swirls outwards over the dark parquet floor reaching almost to the walls. Above the photograph in the centre of the sheet of paper is a typed text:

The sculpture at this place
is the same length as a straight
walk from the bottom of Silbury
Hill in Wiltshire to the top.

First walked in North America, 1970.

The postcard was used by Richard Long as an invitation to his 1970 exhibition at the Dwan Gallery in New York (reproduced Wallis 2009, p.195). At this exhibition visitors could see the first incarnation of the sculpture A Line the Length of a Straight Walk From the Bottom to the Top of Silbury Hill 1970 (reproduced Wallis 2009, p.64), another version of which, made at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1971, is depicted in the photograph at the bottom of the page. Long created this sculpture using a piece of string with which he had measured a walk up Silbury Hill in a straight line, spiralling it round on the gallery floor before pacing its length with muddy boots, which left a residue of light-coloured clay. The sculpture was re-installed at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1991 and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2012. Long made a related work, A Line the Length of a Straight Walk from the Bottom to the Top of Glastonbury Tor 1973 (see Fuchs 1986, pp.30, 71), which was created in a similar way. He has also used the spiral form in A Sculpture Left by the Tide 1970 (Tate AL00184), in relation to which art historian Rudi Fuchs has identified the spiral as ‘a figure of slow movement’ (Fuchs 1986, p.133).

Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe, was built in the Neolithic period about four and a half thousand years ago. It was familiar to Long as he often hitchhiked past it along the A4 from Bristol to London as a student. In 1969, the year before Long created this work, the excavation of the hill had been broadcast on BBC television. The archaeologists had hoped to discover the reason for Silbury Hill’s construction but came to no certain conclusions. However, the hill has always been connected with legends concerning its origins. One example of local folklore is printed on the postcard in this work, telling the story of a rivalry between the towns of Malborough and Devizes in which the people of Malborough solicited the devil to drop a hill on Devizes. Too lazy to make it all the way to Devizes, the devil dropped the hill where he stood, roughly half way between the two towns.

While the postcard in Silbury Hill draws attention to the myths surrounding the site, the sculpture in the photograph was made in response to its geography. With this work, therefore, Long engages with the site’s physical and historical ‘layers’, remarking that his work is ‘just another layer on the surface of the world that has been shared by all these different generations’ (cited in Tufnell 2007, p.102). Long has commented on Silbury Hill as a site:

Silbury Hill is very old, it is the largest man-made earthwork in Europe. I think it is one of the biggest earth pyramids. On the same road I passed Aldermaston in the morning which is a very powerful and symbolic place because that’s where they design missiles which could blow the world up. And Silbury Hill is a place which for people living in England a thousand years ago was the most powerful village site, for reasons that have been lost.
(Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.75.)

Although Long has also made work at other ancient sites elsewhere in the world, he is wary of stressing direct affinities between the work he makes and prehistoric art:

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.
(Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.80.)

Further reading
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986, pp.71, 132, reproduced p.29.
Richard Long (ed.), Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, p.17, reproduced p.36.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, p.75.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, pp.58, 195–6, reproduced pp.64, 195.

Ruth Burgon
The University of Edinburgh
January 2013

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.