In Western culture stones and rocks often have negative associations as dumb, unfeeling and burdensome. Figures of speech such as ‘between a rock and a hard place’, ‘like getting blood out of a stone’, alongside the legend of Sisyphus with his eternal punishment, reinforce this low status. Meanwhile there are other instances, most notably in Japan and China, where rocks are venerated and used as a focus for contemplation or pilgrimage.
Stone Appreciation 3 presented videos of Dunhill and O’Brien in various British landscapes drawing and measuring large boulders alongside film of their attempts to model those same forms in clay from memory without viewing the clay object as it forms. The physical act of clambering on, under and over these rocks, attempting to gather information has been translated into the smaller gestures and awkward intimacy of hand modelling.
The geological term erratic refers to a boulder that has been transported from its place of origin by the movement of a glacier and deposited at a different location, possibly many miles from its origin.
We first came across an image of a particular erratic boulder, at the Natural History Museum in London and were struck by its curious position elevated on three small supporting rocks. We set off to find it in Yorkshire and there, in an area with many rocks seemingly thrown about at random, was this rock on its limestone plinths.
Tailoring blue tarpaulin*, purchased from a local hardware store, to clothe the erratic, we were able to take temporary possession of it – but this was not a homespun homage to Christo and Jeanne Claude. In the rolling green Yorkshire landscape it appeared wrapped for transportation, ready to be relocated in some way. This was indeed the start of its journey, albeit through a digital image, to the famous Ritsurin garden in Takamatsu, Japan’s largest and most celebrated ‘daimyo strolling garden’.
Two works were made for the exhibition at the Sanuki Folk Craft Museum. Erratic, ran the length of one wall in a gallery dedicated to a local furniture designer. An image of the boulder moved at glacial speed along a narrow track calculated to travel the actual distance that the original erratic had been transported over the 6 weeks of the exhibition. The size of the image was meanwhile in proportion to the length of the track at a ratio of 11:1.
*Blue tarpaulin is widely used internationally for protecting objects from the weather, its colour signifying the weight and strength of the material. In the Takamatsu area there were numerous applications of this ubiquitous material and a great variety of sculptural forms created by it – at least 78 were worthy of documentation.
This project was funded by Tokyo University of the Arts, with special thanks to Professor O JUN, Associate Professor Yusuke Nishimura, Yoshinori Takakura, Kenta Kawagoe
In 1981 Isamu Noguchi completed his largest, heaviest and most nomadic artwork, Thunder Rock. This 15-tonne granite sculpture travelled 3 times across the pacific in search of a home, after its original commissioner in the USA was unable to complete the purchase.
When Dunhill and O’Brien encountered the sculpture in Yorkshire on a cold windy day in March 2009 they were struck by the gap between Noguchi’s expressed intention (to make an elemental form transcending the banalities of daily life) and the logistics of repeatedly crating, shipping and storing the work, with its expanding carbon footprint and related paper trail. It seemed a particularly poignant example of one of the troublesome paradoxes that may be encountered when making sculpture.
In response to an invitation to make a temporary work for a park in Tokyo, Dunhill and O’Brien made a full-size transcription of Noguchi’s sculpture, based upon photographic documentation and written descriptions. Tailored in ‘distressed’ beige and cream leatherette to mimic the carved and un-carved surfaces of the granite, their Rock could be stowed as cabin luggage. Like an out-sized Pakamac or sports holdall it travelled with them Economy Class to Tokyo before a trip to visit Noguchi’s studio and quarry in Shikoku. Back in Tokyo and fully upholstered this ungainly object was cautiously wheeled through the back streets of Nishi Ogikubo on a convoluted route to avoid the steep hill between the studio and park, eventually reaching its month-long location at a picturesque spot overlooking the lake in Zempukuji Park.
Inspired by Japanese mountain culture and traditions such as Fujizuka and Suiseki, Dunhill and O’Brien decided to use their residency at Youkobo Art Space in Tokyo as a research and development period, devising and making a series of prototype tools and accessories to make a ‘Mountain Object’.
The work shown at Youkobo Art Space gallery was the result of a physical and somewhat ritualistic process where they attempted to make a new sculpture together, entirely modelled and formed by tailor-made geta based on topographical information of two important mountain ranges in Japan.
The installation consisted of the geta and other bespoke implements used to make the work with a video of the process that evidenced the at times competitive way in which the form was shaped.
Rockery filled the upstairs gallery at White Conduit Projects with an assembly of ‘rocks’. Echoing the thriving market stalls around the corner from the gallery with shelves and structures for display. The work appears to be in tune with its immediate surroundings while its origins are clearly more distant.
During residencies in Japan, Dunhill and O’Brien have been intrigued by two particular cultural phenomena – Suiseki*, often referred to as the ‘Art of Stone Appreciation’, and Fujizuka**, surrogates of Mt Fuji constructed by groups of Fuji devotees during the Edo period. Both Suiseki and Fujizuka involve the re-presenting of forms of nature, bringing the wild and chaotic, massive and uncontrollable into a manageable, human size. Made or selected with great seriousness and purpose they also reveal something of the perversity and scale of human endeavour. The compulsion behind these cultural forms resonates with Dunhill and O’Brien’s motivation to make sculpture that seeks meaning in the awkward, unlikely and ungainly.
This exhibition responds to a month-long expedition seeking out existing Fujizuka in the Tokyo region alongside regular visits to measure rocks, stones and boulders in the UK (identified through the artists’ developing collection of postcards of ‘celebrity’ rocks sourced from ebay).
* Suiseki (an abbreviation of the term sansui keiseki, which translates as “landscape view stone”) involves the selection and display of found stones, usually chosen for their resemblance to landscape forms, particularly mountains. Collected and presented on tailor-made stands or trays, they are a somewhat oblique form of memento mori. Suiseki are highly prized and treated as objects to be contemplated and revered having a tradition that dates back to the Nanbokucho era (1336 to 1392).
** Fujizuka – In the Edo period (1603 to 1868) over a thousand Fujizuka ranging from 5 – 30 metres high were constructed in and around Tokyo from tonnes of lava rocks collected and transported from the sacred mountain. At that time when women and the infirm were not permitted or able to climb the volcano, these ‘land art’ constructions were built for the local community, to simulate the experience of climbing the final and most sacred stage of Mt Fuji, often serving as a platform to view Mt Fuji. Some of these Fujizuka remain more or less intact hidden in between high-rise apartments in the centre of the city or in unlikely suburban areas.
This exhibition was made possible due to the generous support of Youkobo Art Space and The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs.
With special thanks to: Yuki Miyake (co-director of White Conduit Projects), Tatsuhiko and Hiroko Murata (joint Directors of Youkobo Art Space); Yoko Arisaka (Artist and Fujizuka expert); Satoshi Ikeda and Jaime Humphreys (expert translation for research).
Stone Appreciation 2 took as its subject six free standing and, to a greater or lesser extent, well known rocks: the Bowder Stone; the Idol Rock; the Toad Rock; the Chiding Stone; the Hitching Stone and the Big Stone at Bentham, all located in the North West and South East of England.
Having discovered these ‘celebrity’ rocks by purchasing postcards on the Internet, Dunhill and O’Brien have been preoccupied by a quest to visit and measure each of these, much photographed, landmarks.
Making even rudimentary measurements proved to be a tricky business. Videos capture the cumbersome choreography involved in negotiating each rock to establish basic proportions and dimensions. Meanwhile twin-modelled forms, reminiscent of portrait busts are presented, mounted on sculpture modelling stands that have been tailor-made for two artists to work in tandem.
Finally there are the postcards themselves, a collection of images of the six rocks in question, often from similar angles, they are at once a popularity index (90 of the Bowder Stone, only 6 of the Big Stone) and a record of an enduring fascination with these improbable, awkward and ungainly forms.
A life size image of a boulder (with a tailored blue tarpaulin*) from the windblown Yorkshire Dales, UK, traverses the complex, pristine, manicured and historic devised landscape of the Ritsurin gardens, Takamatsu, Japan. The photographic print of the erratic rock, is seen mounted on a large stretcher, awkwardly manoeuvred along various paths and scenic routes in the daimyo strolling garden during the heat and humidity of typhoon season.
The video was presented among a collection of cabinets at the Sanuki Folk House Museum which marked the start and end of the circuitous route of this moving image.
It was a postcard of a painting made in 1868 by the romantic painter John Atkinson Grimshaw that prompted Dunhill and O’Brien’s initial interest in the Bowder Stone. More than the style of painting or the boulder itself however, it was the addition of a staircase leading to the top of the rock that caught their attention – turning an otherwise impressive natural phenomenon into a poignant architectural form, here was a rock posing as both a pulpit and viewing platform. In one of the most ‘unspoilt’ areas of England (the famous Lake District) there is a stone that has been domesticated, and designated as a tourist destination.
For their solo show at the Gallery Fleur in Kyoto, they presented a sculpture consisting of seventy metres of cotton calico formed like a dressmaker’s toile directly on the top section of the Bowder Stone. This detailed and tailored prototype, somewhat oversized for the gallery space, was supported by an elaborate construction of wooden props and sand bags over a paper pattern.
Meanwhile the Stone Appreciation Study Room, made with the participation of Kyoto Seika University’s Fine Art students involved a collection of images and objects relating to the cultural status of stones, from the Blarney Stone in Ireland, to the Torpedo Rock of Australia, the Balanced Rock of Colorado to Kyoto’s own Ryoanji rocks, in this case as a woven image on a cushion cover.
This work was made for the Kunstvereniging Diepenheim in Diepenheim, Holland and shown in the same month as Sculptomatic 1. It employed locally sourced clay and responded to the particular architecture of this unusual purpose-built Sculpture Gallery.
The work involved a Dexion constructed ‘dumb waiter ‘lift used to transport the clay forms based on 500 images of sculptures with holes in, made by Dutch and UK participants, to an upper level of the gallery. There a motorised conveyor belt stretched across the space overhanging the main space somewhat like a diving board so that the clay forms once placed on it were transported to a point 5 metres above the ground floor gallery space where they dropped in to a large vitrine.
The exhibition, like Sculptomatic 1, comprised all of the working mechanisms and materials used to make the clay Sculpture and included a 2-hour video of the vitrine as the sculpture slowly formed along with a presentation of the photographs of each of the clay forms before their journey.
This project was made possible through funding by the Arts Council England, Kunstvereniging Diepenheim and the University of the West of England.
The basic proposition of this complicated and convoluted work was to make a new clay sculpture that would be a ‘meeting place of different cultures and times in the history of sculpture’. The work developed from a preoccupation with the status of holes in sculpture and further elaborated a system intended to enable the avoidance of any interference of personal taste or the ‘hand of the artist’.
A crew of 20 participants were employed to make clay models at a rate of five per hour based on 500 images of sculptures, ranging from prehistoric ritual objects to contemporary artworks, selected because they had some form of hole in them. These images had been manipulated to remove any reference to scale, location or other contextual information.
Once modelled the freshly made clay forms were photographed before being placed on wooden trays that moved slowly around an inclined elevator. At a height of approximately five metres the forms dropped into a display case (at a rate of one every thirty seconds) where they accumulated and fused together to form the new Sculpture.
The final installation of the work included all of the materials and work spaces involved with a 4-hour video showing the vitrine with the sculpture slowly forming.
This project was made possible through funding by the Arts Council England, The James Hockey Gallery and the University of the West of England.