This Plug In shows the works of artists who have made the covering of distances the starting point of their work. Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, On Kawara and Stanley Brouwn belong to a generation of artists who started looking for new directions in art at the end of the 1960s.
They abandon the notion that a work of art is a permanent object that is conceived and usually also created by an artist. Conceptual art arrives on the scene. This art form revolves around the transmission of an idea or experience, not around the tangible product. An event or action can also be considered art. Although only visible at the moment it takes place, it is preserved as a concept in the form of a registration or documentation or in the observer’s memory. The recording of an idea may also be a conceptual work of art; the idea need not necessarily be realised.
Hamish Fulton (1946 Londen GB) presents himself as ‘Walking artist’. Since 1969, he has been hiking through virtually unpopulated areas all over the world. Such trips can vary in length from one day to several weeks. During his travels, Fulton occasionally takes black-and-white pictures and jots down notes about such aspects as the weather, the season, geographical details, the date, duration and length of the trip. These photographs and notes together create succinct travel logs that Fulton presents afterwards, framed or in book form. The photos should not be viewed as works of art; together with the captions, they are a means to convey to the public what Fulton experienced during the walks. During his lonely travels, he seeks to become one with nature and be aware of being there.
Richard Long (Great Britain, 1945) also goes for nature walks and like Fulton he reports on them by showing photographs and notes to the public afterwards. But for Long there is more to it than just walking. En route, he interferes with nature. He draws lines in the sand with the heel of his shoe, or he arranges materials that he finds on his walks, such as stones or branches, in simple geometrical shapes, thus leaving behind traces of his presence. They are primitive forms of culture that are not out of place in the natural environment. These traces will disappear over time under the influence of natural conditions. In documented form, however, they will remain visible to the public. Long brings this type of artwork, such as a line of stones or a circle of branches, into the exhibition room. The material is arranged according to a concept Long himself determines, which may differ each time the work is put on display. The work ‘Meeting place’ consists of part of a map on which a route has been marked that is as circular as possible. Below the map are the words: ‘Two walkers set out at the same time and from the same place, walking along a circular road in opposite directions. Each of them continues without stopping until he meets the other walker who is coming from the opposite direction.’ This is a clear example of a conceptual work of art. Although Richard Long went on this walk together with his younger fellow-artist Tony Cragg, its execution is not of vital importance to the visitor; they can picture it themselves based on the idea.
In the oeuvre of Stanley Brouwn (1935 Paramaribo SME), the footstep plays a key role. A footstep is a personal linear measure as opposed to the standardised meter. Not one step is ever the same. Brouwn conveys this concept by creating works in which he presents the length of his strides in lines. ‘one step (11x)’, for example, shows 11 lines that all differ slightly from one another. Brouwn also produces works in which he involves the viewer. In the 1960s, he asked passers-by to show him the way to a certain location and draw the route. These works were exhibited under the name ‘this way brouwn’. This is a work entitled ‘at this point in time, the distance between stanley brouwn and yourself is x feet’, a work that is far less concrete than the ‘this way brouwn’ series. After all, the visitor has no way of knowing where Stanley Brouwn is at that point in time. But the mention of ‘stanley brouwn and yourself’ in a single sentence suggests an imaginary distance between the two.
On Kawara (1933 Kariya JP) is represented with the work ‘I WENT’. This work consists of twelve yearbooks in which he marks in red pen the routes he covers every day on maps. Every page bears a date stamp. He started on 1 June 1968 and continued until 17 September 1979. Apart from ‘I WENT’, Kawara also produced works entitled ‘I MET’, ‘I READ’ and ‘I GOT UP AT’, as well as a series of ‘Date paintings’, paintings he made on a certain day concerning that particular date. All these registrations are, essentially, confirmations of his existence.
The registration of data on location, time, distance and date is the central theme of the works on display here. Despite or perhaps because of their pragmatic character, viewers can create their own image in their mind, check their own movements or make their own imaginary journey.