Waterlines is a text work consisting of seven lines of text printed in white capital letters in Gill Sans typeface on a large sheet of portrait-orientated paper. The text is aligned centrally, occupying a relatively small portion of the paper approximately two thirds down from the top edge. The dark paper appears to be stained with grey-brown vertical streaks that run from the bottom of the sheet, where they are at their thickest, towards the top, where they thin out. The text reads:
EACH DAY A WATERLINE
POURED FROM MY WATER BOTTLE
ALONG THE WALKING LINE
FROM THE ATLANTIC SHORE TO THE MEDITERRANEAN SHORE
A 560 MILE WALK IN 20 ½ DAYS ACROSS PORTUGAL AND SPAIN
Long made the streaked background by dipping the bottom edge of a black piece of paper into wet mud before hanging it upside down to dry. The muddy water ran down the sheet in rivulets leaving dark ‘waterlines’ on the surface of the paper when it dried. Long has spoken about this process: ‘there’s a lot of chance, especially when the paper is dipped in the muddy water. I might get a bubble in it that pops. The point about that is that I usually do a lot at the same time and they’re all different. But that sort of cosmic variety is what I’m interested in anyway’. (Cited in Patrick Elliott, Richard Long: Walking and Marking, exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh 2007, p.55.) Long has used the same ‘mud-dipping’ technique to create other works, such as River Avon Book 1979 (Tate AR00144), River Avon Mud Drawings, Ten Mud-Dipped Papers 1988 (Tate AR00616) and Untitled 1991 (Tate T06555). Unlike these works, however, Waterlines was made with black paper. Long has noted that the mud ‘looks silvery against black’ (cited in Elliott 2007, p.53). The final work is an offset lithograph made from the image created by Long’s mud-dipping technique on which the white text is superimposed.
The source of the mud used to make the work is unknown, but it is likely that it was taken from the River Avon as this is generally Long’s first choice of mud for works of this kind. The River Avon runs through Bristol, Long’s home town, and the artist has referred to the Avon as his ‘home’ river: ‘I grew up playing along the riverbanks, so the River Avon is a big influence, the huge tide and the mud banks’. (Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.99.)
The text refers to the ritualistic activity of pouring water onto the ground every day while walking across the Iberian peninsula. It provides specific information about the distance, duration and location of the walk but leaves out enough detail for the viewer to have to imagine what the experience was like. The artist has explained:
Waterlines (Portugal and Spain 1989) is about another time and another place from the museum. It is a more spacious work of mark-making with water. The words feed the imagination and tell the story of the walk. The waterlines are a ritualised tracing of the walk each day. The whole walk took 20 ½ days but each waterline lasted only a few minutes. The act of both walking and pouring leave no trace, but nevertheless are a kind of measurement of both myself and that particular route across Iberia. I poured the lines from the large collapsible water bottle that I use for camping.
(Cited in Tufnell 2007, p.43.)
Long made another version of this work for which the same text is printed in blue onto a white background (Tate P11266). The mud-streaked background of AL00205 serves as a symbolic approximation of the original ‘waterlines’ that Long left behind on the earth during his walk. Water linked the start and finish of the walk, from coast to coast, as well as serving to measure its distance and duration, and thus the work relates closely to Water Walk, Wales and England 1999, described as ‘A Coast to Coast Walk from the Irish Sea to the North Sea | A Walk of 349 Miles in 11 Days Carrying Water to Water’ (reproduced in Wallis 2009, p.155).
For Waterlines, Long performed a daily ritual for which no visible record or trace remains, other than the text. Long first explored the idea of turning transient actions into works of art with A Line Made by Walking 1967 (Tate AR00142). The artist has commented: ‘I suppose my work runs the whole gamut from being completely invisible and disappearing in seconds, like a water drawing, or dusty footprints, to a permanent work in a museum that maybe could last forever.’ (Cited in Richard Long (ed.), Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, p.104.) Waterlines is a permanent record of a transient action that marks the changeability of natural processes.
Waterlines is Richard Long’s largest print to date. It was produced in an edition of 250 and was commissioned by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London as part of a portfolio made available to hospitals in the National Health Service (see Mönig, Vermeulen and Kolodziej 2013, p.90). The writer and curator Richard Cork selected six artists to create this portfolio, which, in addition to Waterlines, consists of the following works presented to Tate in 1989: Helen Chadwick’s Anatoli 1989 (Tate P11269), Anish Kapoor’s Untitled 1989 (Tate P11270) and Untitled 1989 (Tate P11271), Bruce McLean’s Hot Slick 1989 (Tate P11267), Thérèse Oulton’s Smokescreen 1989 (Tate P11265) and Kate Whiteford’s Double Chevron and Spiral 1989 (Tate P11268).
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, p.43.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009.
Roland Mönig, Gerard Vermeulen and Beate Kolodziej, Richard Long: Prints 1970–2013, exhibition catalogue, Hamburger Kunsthalle, London 2013, pp.47, 90, reproduced p.91.
Katya Johnson and Ruth Burgon
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.