Exhibitions: Artist Rooms: Richard Long and Luke Fowler, The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, until October 14 2012
© Photo: Stephen Jackson
The sticks running through the centre of one of the Hepworth’s upper galleries have rarely been seen since they were first assembled in 1980.
This single line of different-shaped twigs is accompanied by a single line of writing across the largest gallery wall, “a day’s walk across Dartmoor”, which appears to follow the drift of the clouds outside the windows opposite it.
The moment in the landscape, shown in his forebodingly atmospheric black and white photos in the next room, is vital to Richard Long, but there is no hierarchy: when he critically responds to the natural world within the enclosure of a gallery, the act and the art hold equal importance.
Gravity’s pull is channelled into The Water Falls, a column of clay cascading down a gallery wall in a tower with thin lines of bright white water falling into looping, meshy pools of concrete grey. Then there are two circles of stone, the first in jagged spirals of thick slate, densely packed in random shapes, a beautiful quarry of offcuts intended to reflect the infinite variety of nature.
To the right, another oval of stones is a jigsaw of lighter greys at a levelled height, rising inches from the hard grey floor. The folklore of Stonehenge formations, ancient remnants and burial grounds, the omnipresence of earth and the force of nature are all here. Both circles appear to face inward, protected from humanity by their outer curve.
Long, who has also made a line of red slate snaking across mud towards a river at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1989. And one of the nominees for this year’s prize, the inquisitive Glasgow artist Luke Fowler, has made a work here which has the same haunting feel running through Long’s best pieces.
© Photo: Stephen Jackson
Called The Poor Stockinger, The Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott, it focuses on the work of Edward Palmer-Thompson, Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart.
More specifically, it pursues the themes these radical thinkers explored in their influential mid-20th century writings, framed within the northern working class areas they lived in.
Presciently, much of it is to do with education: images of the distinctly unmodern, almost uniformly brown buildings which hosted lessons are accompanied by the enthusiastic voices of theorisers and reformers. One voice is lyrical and tends to tail off at the end, as if each sentence is a conclusion (“the students have read widely enough to keep the teacher on their toes.”)
Doing justice to a 61-minute film dense in artistic, academic and social concepts is a matter perhaps best left to the eyes and ears of the individual viewer. There are so many points of convergence – not least the lingering shots of historic architecture – within a gallery which is one of the most striking architectural additions to the area. The windows of the Hepworth offer views of the same proud, industrial areas and majestic enveloping countryside.
There is archive footage of the M62 when it was first built during the late 1950s, shooting off above Halifax. The real town, we are told, is “down in the pits, where all of Victorian Halifax is, covered in soot”.
The noise of a plane drones above fields. A billow of smoke rises and expands as the speaker talks about misfiring education plans. Vehicles pass as the drone lowers.
There are flurries of images of classroom windows. A siren shrills, then deepens. It is impossible not to keep watching the images flicking onto the screen after seconds of darkness, or coming one after the other in a slideshow of vivid little portraits of social history and romantic, melancholic, nostalgic imagery.
The townsfolk are socialising between images of public libraries or old paving slabs. “Batley is a small town where everyone knows everybody else”, comes the announcement. Analogue machines fade out, destined to end, just as schooldays must end, industry has faded and certain forms of activism have disappeared, in some cases being replaced or repeated.
The monotonous chimes, symbols, bells and whistles of the schools and factories echo. Suggestion is everywhere. Most of the buildings are semi-derelict and look destined for demolition. It’s hard not to feel disheartened by the sense of emptiness and loss, and then a voice chimes in: “f***, it’s so beautiful. No wonder you chose this.”
You could take it as a lament to a past which still stands in these empty shells. You could enjoy its poetic pace, or view it as a series of poignant history excerpts. No matter the interpretation, Fowler has created a powerful work, moving and mesmerising in equal measure.
© WEA Archive, TUC Library, London Metropolitan University. Photo: P.K. McLaren FIBP, ARPS
© WEA Archive, YUC Library, London Metropolitan University
© WEA Archive, YUC Library, London Metropolitan University. Photo: A.S.Parkin
© Photo: Stephen Jackson