Land Art emerged as an art movement in the USA in the late 1960s. The initial aim was to dissolve the boundaries of conventional art institutions and to find new ways of expression outside of the exhibition space, for which the artists made use of landscape and nature.
Richard Long, an English representative of the movement, walked straight up and down a meadow in 1967 for his work "A Line Made by Walking, England", leaving a trail in the grass. With this minimal change in nature, which had a temporal component in both the process of creation and its dissolution, Long pursued a conceptual approach with a reduced formal language.
By piling up earth, drawing in the sand, or arranging stones and leaves, the Land Art artists created works of art with and in nature, which were exposed to weather and were therefore ephemeral. In addition, Land Art works were often created in remote places and were not easily accessible to viewers, which is why the works were usually documented photographically and on film. The German filmmaker Gerry Schum presented in 1969 a series of videos of works by several artists in a TV show called “Land Art”, which gave a name to the movement.
Through Robert Smithson, Land Art underwent further theoretical expansion. He was interested in the interrelation between the inside and outside and created the terms "site" and "nonsite". The term "site" refers to a real existing place in the exterior space, whereas "nonsite" means a work in the interior space that consists of materials from the real place and has a direct reference to it. In his work "A Nonsite, Franklin, New Jersey" (1968), for example, Smithson transferred material from Franklin, New Jersey to the gallery space as a representation of this location, thus reintegrating the conventional exhibition space into the dialogue.
Following Smithson’s theory, the three drawings in Richard Long's "River Avon Mud Drawings" series (1989) can be described as "nonsite" works. They were created by dipping a structured piece of paper in the wet mud of the River Avon, a river in southwest England that flows through Long's home town of Bristol.
Long describes the works as drawings that reflect the appearance of the riverbed after low tide: a mud-covered surface with a ramified pattern left by the tidal current. Long hangs the leaves up to dry and finally turns them 180 degrees, so that the vertical flow traces of the mud taper off towards the top.