parksong, the line of my voice and i sing myself a circle all explore the line between private and public artwork. The viewer’s imagined performance is the private performance of a public score, inverting the more usual model of private score/public performance. Likewise, if physically performed, both parksong and i sing myself a circle are private performances (in that the experience is the focus of the performance, not the result heard by other people) in public spaces rather than a public performance (intended to be heard by others) in a public space.
The presentation of this series is strongly dependent on observations I have made regarding the contextualisation of Richard Long’s public work, and particularly the transformation of his amateur work into art objects through presentation. For example, A Line Made By Walking was created as a documentation of a transitory work, not intended for gallery display. Due to a chance meeting in New York in 1969,(fn36) however, it has become an Art Object in its own right. On viewing this work at the Tate Britain, I was struck by how this photograph holds its own against more intentional art in the same room. While the strong concept of the piece plays a part, much of this transformation of amateur photography into Art is the result of presentation.
Brian O’Doherty states that transformation begins with the most basic gallery structure, the wall:
Once the wall became an esthetic force, it modified anything shown on it. The wall, the context of the art, had become rich in a content it subtly donated to the art. It is now impossible to paint up an exhibition without surveying the space like a health inspector, taking into account the esthetics of the wall which will inevitably “artify” the work in a way that frequently diffuses its intentions.(fn37)
In the case of A Line Made By Walking, the gallery wall diffuses its amateur origins. The mount and frame, with the location and date written neatly in pencil – ‘ENGLAND, 1967’ – and the gallery’s plaque giving details of the work, these reinforce the ‘artification’ of this object.
Similarly, whether parksong is printed by a photocopier on office-printing paper or by a professional fine-art printer at 720dpi on specialist paper will have no effect on the quality of the work as a piece of music, but using the latter approach – and in combination with gallery conventions of signing and framing – gives the piece more gravitas as an artwork than the former.
HearSee likewise explores the artification of amateur content through presentation. Typeset titles literally frame the lo-fi audio and video content by bookending it, but also frame it conceptually as Art. Titling, acknowledgement of authorship, as well as the copyright notice, date and location act in the same way as the printing, paper, signature and frame of the parksong series to imbue this amateur videography with a heightened sense of artistic authority.
The prospect of a public performance of Crossing Dartmoor posed a problem for me because of its mixed nature. The designation ‘song cycle’ suggests that its natural home would be the recital hall; but would the overtly experimental elements of the cycle (field recordings, text scores) sit comfortably in this context? I considered whether to encourage the singer to walk around the performance space, and ways to reduce the formality of a conventional recital. These ideas, however, seemed to trivialise both Richard Long’s work and my own. Reflecting on how conventional gallery presentation has transformed A Line Made By Walking from amateur photography into High Art, I decided that a conventional context for the field recordings and text pieces could integrate them into the cycle (and a performance) better than if the whole set were approached as something which did not belong in that context. Considering the effect of context in the workshop performance of the cycle by Simon Oliver Marsh and Alexandra Kremakova, I feel that this has been the right decision to make and that all the elements of the work fuse well together in this conventional context.
Continue reading: Crossing boundaries: 2. Constructing private situations
36 ‘On one such trip, to New York in 1969, where [Long] spent some time before travelling onwards to Ithaca to participate in the landmark ‘Earth Art’ exhibition at Cornell University’s Andrew Dickson White Museum, Long in fact met a gallerist at a bar who, upon seeing the photographs Long was taking around with him in a simple cigar box, invited him to show at his gallery. The subsequent realisation by Long that photographs could be works of art of their own eventually landed the 23-year-old artist his first solo exhibition in the United States, held at the John Gibson Gallery in SoHo in the early spring of 1969.’ Dieter Roelstraete, Richard Long: A Line Made By Walking, London: Afterall Books, 2010, 70.
37 Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, expanded edition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, 29.
© 2023 Caitlin Rowley