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Three Places consists of three black and white landscape photographs mounted on off-white paper and framed separately. Below the central photograph the words ‘THREE PLACES’ are handwritten in red pencil between neatly ruled guidelines. Beneath this the words ‘SOUTH AMERICA 1972’ are handwritten in graphite pencil. The first photograph shows a lush landscape with mountains on the horizon. A river runs from the mountains towards the bottom right of the picture. In the foreground a dark cross is marked in the grass. The second photograph shows a flat desert landscape with scanty vegetation and mountains in the far distance. In the foreground is a square constructed out of dry vegetation, placed so as to form a loose herringbone pattern. The third photograph looks down upon a mountainous landscape with a path running through it to the left of the picture. In the central lower half of the picture a light-coloured circle is visible, appearing elliptical due to the oblique angle from which the photograph has been taken.
The photographs document three sculptural interventions made by Long whilst walking in remote landscapes. He created geometric shapes out of natural materials available to him in the immediate vicinity and – after photographing them – left them to disintegrate back into the landscape. The title of the work and its inscription beneath the central photograph suggest that the work was made in three places in South America. The three geometric forms represented in the work (the cross, the square and the circle) appear elsewhere in Long’s oeuvre, where they are used to construct sculptural forms or map the shape of walks. The circle, for example, which Long sees as a powerful and timeless form, appears in the sculpture in A Circle in Alaska 1977 (Tate AL00212) and a walk in Concentric Days 1996 (Tate AL00213). The cross – seen for example in England 1968 1968 (Tate AL00210) – might be understood as an emphatic place marker or conversely a crossroads. Although Long has been concerned with the symbolism of such geometric elements, he is also interested in the juxtaposition of rigid man-made forms with the fluidity of nature. As he observes: ‘You could say that my work is also a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world, and that is really the kind of subject of my work.’ (Long 1991, p.250.) In Three Places the man-made mark meets the ‘patterns’ of the natural landscape through which the artist walks.
Long began to travel and make work abroad from the late 1960s. In the following decade it became easier and more affordable to travel overseas, enabling the artist to ‘get on an aeroplane and end up a few days later in a different continent, in a different culture, in a different landscape’. (Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.70.) Since the late 1960s Long’s work has been associated with the land art movement, whose practitioners included Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim and Walter de Maria. An early work in Tate’s collection, A Line Made by Walking 1967 (Tate AR00142), closely anticipates the artist’s later practice of sculpting impermanent works out of natural landscapes.
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986.
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007.
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.