HENI Talks x Articulation: Richard Long, ‘Tame Buzzard Line’
Cassius Ashcroft and Femi Themen — alumni of the ARTiculation Prize — explore Richard Long’s site-specific sculpture Tame Buzzard Line, reflecting on the work’s relationship to the landscape and exploring themes of time, environmentalism and Buddhist philosophy.
This is the third film released in a collaborative series with ARTiculation celebrating ‘Young Voices’ engaging with art.
Articulation is an initiative that provides a platform for students to develop their confidence and ability by expressing their opinions, thoughts and ideas through the arts and public speaking. The initiative seeks to champion young people regardless of background and experience. Articulation began in 2006 at the Roche Court Educational Trust and merged with the National Gallery in 2022.
Cassius Ashcroft (CA): So, this piece is Tame Buzzard Line by Richard Long, and it was commissioned for Roche Court. And the main idea of this piece was to mimic the transient journey of a buzzard flying from the old holm oak tree to the ash tree you see behind us.
Femi Themen (FT): I think what is quite intriguing about the work when you’re first introduced to it, is that you discover it from behind the green wall, and you just see this kind of theatrical, stark image of the sharp silhouette of the ash tree, and then the very strong, initially strong, sharp lines of the work itself. But then actually when you come and interrogate it, come up closer to it, you’re playing and looking at the work, you see the much more natural formation, which I think is quite an interesting way of building a relationship with the viewer and then the artwork itself.
CA: Yes, and on that point, the idea of the environment and the transitory nature of it, is very important in this work. As we can see, there are weeds and there are plants growing throughout the cracks and the folds of the flint. And that’s a very important point, because it demonstrates ephemerality in the piece. Although it does have a clear permanent quality to it, there is that ephemeral, transient nature that mimics the transient journey of the buzzard.
FT: I like that idea of the temporal nature of the work, I think the presence of it feels very important, especially that intimate relationship, where the distinction between the individual and the actual work itself kind of starts to be blurred, because you’re looking, you’re a part of the environment, and a part of the natural world itself – which is really beautiful, and really important, especially following lockdown and the limitation on interaction with nature, which I feel almost starved of. So to be able to actually be here, and looking at the work, and interacting with the work, feels really important, like a part of our development as human beings as well.
CA: Yes, definitely. Although, one of the first things I noticed about this piece is the way in which it contrasts with the landscape. So, we see that this flint stone, it contrasts very much with the smooth meadow. Although, when you look closely at it you realise that this is local flint. This is from the environment. So that forms a very interesting interplay between connection but also disconnection with the environment.
FT: Yeah. I think also talking about the flint, I think it’s quite interesting seeing each form, they’re very individual pieces, completely unique. So, it’s that idea of rejecting the unity of more man-made structures, but also that individuality I guess, you can talk about how it mimics our individuality as human beings. It kind of replicates almost a stream of carcasses, a burial site. And I guess you could play with the idea of the buzzard being a bird of prey, and the predatory nature, the destructive nature of nature, as well as the kind of ephemeral beauty and gracefulness of the landscape itself.
CA: Yeah, and in terms of its aesthetic, I think you have to appreciate the value of the line, not necessarily just as a geometric form, or a start or end point, but also as an experience in itself. As we were walking around it, we took in this multisensory experience, we heard the rustling of the leaves, but we also heard the birds in the trees and we could feel the tactility, the rough angularity of the flint stones, and I think that really is important in embedding this idea of presence in this piece. So, Richard Long was a Zen Buddhist, and he was inspired by the idea of Satori, which is the here-ness and the now-ness of an experience. And this is fundamental in the appreciation of this piece.
FT: Yes, I think that’s quite an interesting idea – that presence, and the idea of ‘nowness’, because what he’s doing is making permanent a very transitory and fleeting moment. So, that idea of flight being quite fast is not something that you necessarily would capture, but for him to solidify it so strongly I think it’s quite an interesting relation to then how we as human beings feel the need to make our existence permanent as well. So, that idea of all the infrastructure that we’re building, inscribing our names into history, graffiti tags, wall engravings, it’s that idea of ‘This is our existence, this is who we are now.’ But as you were saying before, the sculpture being made of very natural materials gives still that sense of ephemerality. So, yes there is a sense of permanence in the work in the kind of rock formation, but actually with weathering, it will shift, and change, and grow, like our own state of nature as human beings. We will die, we will come back, depending on how you believe how life will regenerate, but there’s the idea of our own ephemerality then looking at the work, and we’re confronted with our lack of permanence and endurance within the world that we’re living in now.
CA: Yes definitely, and the idea of the line is also important because you have to look alongside it. And there we see, at the end of the line, we see an ash tree, and ash trees often symbolise regeneration, because of the shedding of the leaves and the regrowing of the leaves. And then when you look towards this side of the line, we see an old holm oak tree, and they symbolise permanence and longevity because they have a life span of over four hundred years, a very, very long lifespan. And as we’re walking down the line, we appreciate the present time and we realise that we’re caught between three, triads of time, like a trinity of time almost. And that’s very important because, like I said earlier, the Satori, the nature of that work, that enhances the experience and also what you take away from the sculpture, whether it be to be more respectful of the natural world, to be more transient with the natural world, or whether or not to just appreciate it more.
FT: Yes. And the idea of the triad of time is really interesting, because it’s tying into the idea of the cycle of life. That we are part and parcel of nature, that everything is growing, and moving and evolving and developing and that nothing actually is permanent, maybe we are just completely in a transitory state for our entire eternity. I think that’s quite a humbling experience, but also quite a beautiful notion.
CA: Something that I also find really interesting about this piece is the diversity of colours but also forms, so some of these rocks have holes in them, for example. Some are different in colours, we see ochres, we see greys we see blues almost. And I think that almost is symbolic of the diversity of the natural world.
FT: Yes, definitely. Yeah, the individualism in it, as well as the collective nature, which I guess you could talk about our own way of forming civilisation, we’re individuals but also very much part of a community, whether that is in the UK, or the wider world collective. I think it’s quite a nice connection to the human and the natural world. We are part and parcel of that we’re not separate.
CA: And I think, to add on the idea of the line, something important about this work is that although it may seem like a perfect line, there are broken sections. We see some of the rocks falling out of the line. And I think that also suggests just maybe the lack of perfection in the natural world. Almost the lack of beauty in some sense. The idea that not everything is beautiful.
FT: Yeah, yeah. Richard Long definitely has a much more honest approach to the natural world, so like you were talking about before, there is a slight lack of beauty in this where the kind of like jagged carcass-like formations and the bird of prey, and that idea of destruction. Nature isn’t a romanticised piece of literature, it’s a very real, very organic, and very terrifying but also grounding environment to be a part of.
CA: And I think there is an argument to be made though, that the brokenness of the line could perhaps be human’s fault. Because Long assembled each and every one of these flint stones himself. So perhaps it’s not nature that is imperfect, perhaps is human endeavour that is imperfect.
FT: I like that idea, really interesting, and ties into that idea of environmentalism as well, and Long’s philosophy and politics around our relationship with nature, and our destruction of nature. And that feels quite important now, with the idea of climate change and rising temperatures. It very much reminds you of our own impact on the world that we’re living in.
With thanks to
New Art Centre, Roche Court Sculpture Park
Timothy Revell, ARTiculation
Josepha Sanna, ARTiculation
The Roche Court Educational Trust
Richard Long, Tame Buzzard Line, 2001 © Richard Long, courtesy New Art Centre, Roche Court Sculpture Park
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