Ten Days Walking and Sleeping on Natural Ground is a text work representing a walk Long made in Scotland over a period of ten days. It comprises three sections of equal size on which text has been printed in brown ink. Each section describes the walk through different aspects. The central panel is vertical and the two flanking panels are horizontal. On the left side the title is printed across the centre of the page. The central panel lists the Gaelic and English names of places and topographical features passed by the artist during his walk above the subtitle ‘A 134 mile meandering walk/ Scotland 1986’. The names and features are listed in a vertical line, one below the next. Some place names from the beginning of the list are repeated in inverse order at its end, indicating that the walk was circular. The panel on the right reproduces the form of the circle with phrases, in apparently random order, describing the artist’s experiences during the walk. These include things seen, heard and smelled as well as actions and observations. Long has explained:
The title was the original idea and everything flowed from that. The walk was to be random and meandering ... It took ten days to complete and I camped the whole time ... I had this particular idea, to make a walk in a wilderness area only on natural ground, without using footpaths ... I chose one particular part of Scotland, in the Highlands. It was off the beaten track, full of mountains and moorland and I particularly chose it because it was almost empty of trails and footpaths ... this work gave me the opportunity to isolate and concentrate on certain aspects of information – both objective, from the map, and subjective, from the walk.
The key to the circular text section is the words at the top [‘mind map’] because it is subjective, and the opposite of the objective naming and chronology of places. It describes ideas, thought and experiences mixed up and floated in time, in a random way ... In this work I also became interested in the idea of using words in a different way. Even though I listed all the places I went through, it is not necessary to understand them. You can read them visually, or see them repeated, see the geographic rhythm, without understanding Gaelic ... I think [words] are an open system to be read with meaning, or no meaning, or any interpretation. But the way I use them, they are first visual images, like all art.
(Quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, pp.413-4.)
Long’s first purely text work was a poster created in 1969 for the seminal exhibition of Conceptual art, When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head, curated by Harald Szeemann and held at the Bern Kunsthalle in Switzerland. This poster stated simply his name, the dates of a ten day period, and the description of his action, ‘A Walking Tour in the Berneroberland’, which was the title of the work (whereabouts unknown). He has subsequently distinguished his work from the Conceptual art movement, since for him the execution of the idea is of primary importance, rather than the idea itself. But, like text works created by Conceptual artists, Long’s work requires reading and thinking on the part of the viewer to complete it. Ten Days Walking and Sleeping on Natural Ground transforms the artist’s slow, rhythmic and reflective activity of walking in the outdoor world into the viewer’s concentrated moment of encounter with words in the gallery. In this work text functions both as visual patterning and as description evoking visual imagery from another time and place.
As is standard in Long’s work, the text appears in capital letters, printed in the Gill Sans typeface. Waterlines 1989 (Tate P11266) is another text-only work by Long.
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1991, reproduced (colour) pp.89-91
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996, pp.413-5, reproduced p.413
November 2000/October 2001