England 1968, Richard Long

Today’s post is the fifth in my fortnight of postcard posts, where I draw a card at random from my big box of them and try to say what I think about it. Here’s the rest of them.

I started wanting to look at these postcards as a method of distracting myself from the massive pile of ordure that is politics at the moment, and today’s postcard has, for a couple of reasons, dropped me back into it.  I bought this postcard quite recently – on the 28th June, 2016 – on the first day I went any further than 500m outside my house after the EU referendum. I was still boiling with rage and had thought – it’s becoming a habit – that looking at some art might distract me. It didn’t. I walked down Millbank to get to the Tate having an argument on Twitter with someone who had voted Leave to bring about the great workers’ revolution. When I got there I found that while I’d been thinking about other things Tate had decided to stage an exhibition of British Conceptual Art. I couldn’t take the first thing in. I glared at the walls but nothing stuck.

Here’s a piece of work called England. It was created by the artist plucking daisies from a field covered by them in the shape of a cross. I’m looking at it in November 2016 when I’m still furious with England. Crosses find their natural home on flags, don’t they?

A lot of musings about the Establishment have been mused since the referendum. I wonder the Establishment that people are supposed to have lashed out against is wider than I’ve realised. I wonder if everything that makes the great grey world is included: clipboards, bank tellers, pylons, suburban sprawl, supermarket carparks, everything that makes England dull and decided. A neat cross stripped of wildflowers speaks of imposing order on a space that was doing all right without the order. This is England, but is this what England wanted?

But then I wouldn’t be talking to you now about a picture of a field of daisies, indeed no one would have taken the picture. We do have to keep on building our country, and when we do it we know that not everyone will like what we’ve done with it. At this point, to keep on the upswing of constructive thoughts, I should probably say something about listening to people when making change. I don’t feel like that, though, I still feel right now that neither the person plucking out daisies nor the person who loved the field before the cross was there have any common ground to meet on and will go right on talking past each other.  As one of life’s daisy-pluckers, I feel pretty bleak.

Obviously Richard Long didn’t mean any of this back in 1968. I don’t really have the sense that he meant much of an ironic statement about nationalism either: while I’ve made the parallel with flags, this isn’t St George’s cross. Can I point you towards a BBC 4 documentary that discusses Long’s work, along with 5 other landscape artists working in Britain? It’s called Forest, Field and Sky: Art out of Nature and I enjoyed it a lot.  As luck would have it, it seems to be on BBC4 tonight or you’ll be able to get it on iPlayer after that.

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