This weekend I have been in Cardiff experiencing a Dr Who extravaganza for the 50th anniversary of the first ever episode of Dr Who. While in that city, I took a short digression from science fiction and strange men with long scarfs to look at art at the National Museum.
While there, I stumbled across (as one does) a touring exhibition highlighting art of the British landscape in the late 1960s and 1970s called ‘Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979’.
I have recently gained a slightly off-the-tangent-from-my-own-practice interest in land art because of its significance for the Absence as Presence topic I am dealing with at college. Art on the land is all about making a mark, creating a presence, and then later becoming an absence. Last year, also, I learnt about ‘site specific’ and ‘expanding field’ art, which is art that works beyond the plinth and only where it is created and displayed. There is a significant overlap between land art and site specific art.
Amongst the pieces on display a number interested me particularly. My favourite was a piece by Tony Cragg called New Stones – Newton’s Tones, that combines the notion of collecting things for display with the idea of people leaving their presence in the objects that they discard.
In 1978, Cragg collected plastic objects and fragments from along the river Rhine. He sorted and arranged them in the approximate sequence of colours present in white light, as identified by Isaac Newton. In the piece they appear fragmented as if a rainbow. His message was perhaps more about environmental pollution of the landscape by discarded rubbish but they speak to me about the things we leave behind as evidence of our presence.
Another piece which interested me was a ‘drawing’ made by Roger Ackling. I like the idea that drawing is so much more diverse than just putting a pencil, ink or paint to paper. Ackling ‘drew’ with the sun. His art presents a sort of record of time, or of weather at a particular time. It is a way to create beauty out of natural phenomena and it is art of the moment.
This piece was made by focusing sunlight through a magnifying glass onto card. The sun burnt dots onto the card to create the marks. The stronger the sunlight (with the absence of cloud) then the darker the mark.
A third artwork that attracted my attention was a photograph of a ‘situational sculpture’ by Keith Arnatt called Liverpool Beach Burial from 1968. This consists of a long line of ‘heads’ buried in the sand facing the tide. The overall effect cuts between horror and comedy. I just love it.
Seeing heads in the sand creates a simultaenous feeling of unease and fascination. The question is: why are they doing this? Are they doing this for a joke or is it some dramatic suicide pact? Or perhaps they were buried there and they are unable to escape? I feel the need to wait and see them get up and go so I can relax again. The photograph puts me on edge.
Besides this there were pieces by well-known land and landscape artists and sculptures such as Anthony Gormley, Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long and many others I hadn’t been aware of before.
I spent a very pleasant 40 minutes (that is all I was allowed away from all the children we were with) walking around the exhibits. I could say more, but I wouldn’t know where or when to stop.
Arts Council, 2013, Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979 (Hayward Publishing, London)