I was out walking earlier today and came across this strip of mud.
It reminded me of one of Richard Long’s walking pieces, though its fairly certain that the strip wasn’t created with any artistic intentions. Not because Tanfield, which was where I was walking, is automatically a place not to be associated with modern or contemporary art. It has as much right to be a host to artistic production as anywhere else.
It is instead that the strip lacks definition. Compare the Tanfield strip with Long’s 1972 Walking Line in Peru, with its undeviating track disappearing of into the hills and the haphazard edges of the former clearly mark it out as accidental, just part of its surroundings with nothing special about it.
Robert Hughes seemed to suggest in Shock of the New, that land art offered artists an alternative to the gallery system and the economics of the art market. There could be no intrinsic value attached to a line in the soil and a massive structure built far into the desert couldn’t be displayed in a gallery for the convenience of rich collectors.
Land art could offer a more socialist alternative perhaps to an increasingly aristocratic art market. Unfortunately, with some exceptions, Long maybe, Andy Goldsworthy certainly, I think land art remains as remote to the majority as most abstract or conceptual art. It would interesting to know what any Peruvians coming across Long’s walked line thought of it and whether the recognised any aesthetic dimension to it. The obvious irony of the land artist’s practice is that individual pieces can sit as far away from the gallery as it wants to but to make their statement known land artists have to photograph, make drawings and record notes which are often then displayed, bought and traded in the marketplace.
Where does all that leave the strip of mud in Tanfield then? Nowhere really, it simply exists until with the passage of time it doesn’t.