I have been thinking about stone. Partly because of some lovely posts by Jeffrey Cohen which include extracts from an article he is writing, and partly because, in the past few weeks, I have seen many strange and beautiful stones. I don’t have a theory to share. But I have three images. Jeffrey, they are for you.
There is this stone, the stone of the Norwegian mountains. Michael once commented that in Norway you can see directly into the mountains themselves, into their core, whereas in Austria they’re still decked out in topsoil. The mountains in Norway feel old. Their bare, curved forms are clad only in lichen. Their stone walls drop abruptly, nakedly, down into the fjords. You think of the inching of glaciers. You think of those who farmed the valleys hundreds of years ago and trekked over the mountains and the ice to trade.
And there is this stone. The stone bodies of the Vigeland park. My brother said how strange it is, the bronze sculptures and the stone sculptures are all in exactly the same style, although it would have taken him decades to complete them. How strange to build such an edifice, so many similar statues. And I said – but it makes you think about your body, your physical existence, in a way that few things do.
I have been thinking about life. Its softness, its weakness, its slipperiness, its vitality. Because of my friend who died, and because of the babbies I play with most days. And, yes, stone seems something other than that. To see movement, and flesh, and babies, and old people smoothed from the stone itself… I don’t know. The sculptor himself is dead now. The sculptures speak of the human life-cycle, from birth to death. But each sculpture does not age, save slowly, minutely, by the rain and the sun and ice and the wind. The sculptures outlive the bodies they depict. But the sculptures will not last forever.
Stone speaks to us and we make stone speak.
The mountains are shaped by time and by ice. We blast tunnels and build roads to make them accessible, but they are bigger and harder and older than us. They do not make concessions.
The Vigeland statues have been chiseled painstakingly until they resemble us. People. Bodies. The curve of an arm and the curve of a cheek; the softness or the fierceness of a gaze. They are stuffed and molded with life. But they are stone.
The stones of the stone ship are somewhere in between. More human than the mountains, more natural than the statues. The standing stones are solid things. They mark a burial site. They mark the space between. The space between earth and sky, between life and death, between earth and ocean. The stones form a skeleton ship, sailing the heavy earth.