Stepping Stones 1976 consists of a map and several lines of text on a sheet of off-white paper. The paper is arranged in a portrait orientation and the map, in the form of a horizontally orientated rectangle, is attached near the top of the page. The map appears to have been cut out and pasted on the paper by hand as it is not perfectly level. The lines of text have been carefully handwritten below the map, with pencil guidelines visible above and below the letters. The first line, written in red pencil, reads ‘STEPPING STONES’. Below this, written in graphite pencil, are the following words:
A WESTWARD WALK IN SCOTLAND
FROM 2369 FT, MEALL MÓR
TO 2762 FT, MEALL A’BHÙIRICH
TO 3603 FT, SGURR CHÒINNICH MÓR
TO 4048 FT, AONACH BEAG
TO 4406 FT, BEN NEVIS
The work records a walk made by the artist in Scotland in 1976. The map, a section taken from a larger Ordnance Survey sheet, depicts the five peaks mentioned in the text, with Meall Mór in the east and Ben Nevis in the west. This range of mountains is not far from Fort William in the west of Scotland. The height of each of the peaks is provided in feet, telling us that, under the classification system used for mountains in Scotland, Meall Mór is a ‘Graham’ (defined as 2,000–2,500 feet) while Sgurr Chòinnich Mór, Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis are all ‘Munros’ (defined as over 3,000 feet). The line of the walk from mountain to mountain in height ascending order is not recorded on the map, meaning that viewers must reconstruct Long’s route between map and text in their minds.
As the title of the work indicates, Long viewed each mountain as a ‘stepping stone’ in his journey. The artist would use this ‘stepping stone’ approach in later works, including Mountains to Mountains Ireland 1980 (reproduced in Fuchs 1986, p.58) and Twelve Hours Twelve Summits 1983 (reproduced in Fuchs 1986, pp.194–5). In the latter walk, Long spent one hour at each of twelve summits along a five-day westward walk in the Highlands of Scotland. Two of the peaks in this walk (Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis) are also included in Stepping Stones. Long has been making works in Scotland since he was a student, most notably Untitled [Ben Nevis Hitchhike] 1967 (Tate T02065), for which the artist hitchhiked and walked from London to the peak of Britain’s highest mountain. For Long the Scottish Highlands are an ideal location for such walking works, since most of them are ‘still wilderness, most of the Highlands are still possible for people to walk.’ (Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.71.)
Stepping Stones is one of a number of works made during the 1960s and 1970s in which the artist explored the possibility of making walking into art (see, for example, A Line Made by Walking 1967, Tate AR00142, and A Hundred Mile Walk 1971–2, Tate T01720). Long realised that this very simple practice could be used to re-evaluate the nature of sculpture itself: ‘I could make a piece of art which was ten miles long. I could also make a sculpture which surrounded an area of 2,401 square miles’ (quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.73). In some works, such as A Line Made by Walking, the artist temporarily intervened in the landscape. But in others, such as Stepping Stones, the walk itself becomes the content of the work. Simply by walking, Long could create artworks or sculptures on a vast scale, even though the final results would be invisible on the landscape and only recorded, as in this work, in the form of a map or text.
Throughout his career, Long has found maps a straightforward way to summarise, document and present walks as artworks. One reason the artist makes map works in Britain is because here, as he puts it, ‘you can get good maps’ (quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.84), referring to the Ordnance Survey range established in the eighteenth century that covers the entire British Isles. Long sees any walk he completes as an additional layer ‘laid upon the thousands of other layers of human and geographic history on the surface of the land’ (quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.18), a history evident in detailed maps. In 1994 Long wrote a short text entitled ‘Notes on Maps’, which elucidates his aims:
A map can be used to make a walk. A map can be used to make a work of art.
Maps have layers of information; they show history, geography, the naming of places.
A map is an artistic and poetic combination of image and language.
For me, a map is a potent alternative to a photograph, it has a different function.
It can show the idea of a whole work, not a moment.
A can show time and space in a work of art.
Distance, the days of walking, the campsites, the shape of the walking, can be shown in one concise but rich image.
In some of my works, I find the best places to realise particular idea by first looking at a map.
A map can decide place and idea, either or both.
Maps can be read in many different ways, they are a standard universal language.
I like to think of my work on a map exists equally with all the other information on it.
On a long walk a map becomes a familiar, trusted object, something to look at endlessly, without boredom.
I can look at the planned future and the completed past.
A map is light.
A map could save my life.
(Long 2002, p.84.)
Although the artist provides the relevant maps, it is not his intention that others should repeat these walks, since they belong not only to a certain place, but also to a certain time. Instead the viewer is left to experience Long’s walk imaginatively through the layers of information provided by both the map and the text.
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986.
Richard Long, Walking the Line, London 2002.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007.
The University of Edinburgh
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