The Artworld’s New Stone Age, Eloise Hendy, δημοσίευση ArtReview [25/11/2022]Marilena Pateraki
What is a stone? In a cemetery it’s solemn, in a shoe it’s a nuisance. A diamond ring and a lump of coal share mineral characteristics but can’t be swapped as gifts. Stones can be markers and monuments and weapons; treasure or rubble. Yet, despite their disparate uses and meanings, minerals are often imaginatively grouped together to signify stability and endurance. To be ‘stony’ is, of course, to be tough, inflexible, unmoving. Monarchies and marriages are conferred through precious stones precisely because they are institutions conceived as everlasting – ‘til death do us part, and at death carve our names into stone. Stones are thought of as absolutes. You hit rock bottom. You make yourself crystal clear.
In the messy, malleable sludge of geological reality though, like monarchies and marriages rocks are, in fact, not all that stable. They erode and sediment. They are carried, carved, deposited, shattered; mapped, mythologised, named, used to pray and pave. Stones are contradictory: static and restless; ecology and commodity.
In her new book Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones (2022), the art critic Hettie Judah draws a line between humans’ longstanding lithic fascination and our inability to grasp deep time. ‘Historically,’ she writes in the introduction, ‘stories have helped us make sense of the incomprehensible duration of the world.’ Stones became myths, Judah suggests, because humans had no other way of conceiving time scales unimaginably greater than our own lives: ‘tales of an ancient flood helped explain why the shells of sea creatures can be seen in rocks on a mountaintop.’ Grand narratives of faith and history, in other words, can all be traced in a single cliff face; baked into a fold of the Earth’s crust.