Ilana Halperin

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Ilana Halperin, The Rock Cycle (2021), Terracotta bricks and drainage tiles encrusted in a new layer of limestone over 3 months in the calcifying springs of the Fontaines Pétrifiantes de Saint-Nectaire. Install view at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute. Photos: Keith Hunter

The Rock Cycle

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he recounts “Nothing perishes in this world; but things merely vary and change their form.” The rock cycle is a geological concept that describes how rocks change from one type to another through geologic time. Rocks also evolve from life to stone. We are part of a deep time calcium carbonate family tree—from molluscs, starfish, coral and fish, to limestone, marble, our teeth and bones. We are animal and mineral at the same time.
Over the last few years, I spent days collecting eroded bricks from the beach in Kilchattan Bay on the Isle of Bute. From around 1844 until 1915 there was an old brick and tile works in the Bay that produced 1,250,000 tiles and half a million bricks every year. The bricks were quite porous, so production eventually stopped. Numerous remaining bricks were then thrown into the Firth of Clyde, where for over one hundred years they tumbled in and out with the tides each day, becoming more like rocks again. In a nearby bay, there was a tradition of throwing plates into the water when someone died—from ground, to table, to ocean. These bricks from Kilchattan Bay call to mind the idea of Domestic Deep Time.

There is another rock cycle, one that incorporates our own geologic processes. I remember that at the same time my mother was diagnosed with dementia, I met with a geologist in Yosemite. He told me that the Lyell Glacier will likely be completely gone in five years, about the same length of time it could take for my mother’s cognition to melt away. I have been thinking about the act of geological grieving. I wrote down the phrase BEARING WITNESS and underlined it several times the other day. This is not a passive act, just as grief is not a point of stasis. I guess with all the current seismic upheaval of our contemporary moment, geological grief asks us to consider the relevance of what we do, while simultaneously demanding that we forge active responses in the face of the incomprehensible. So, in a discrete geologic action, I picked up bricks from Kilchattan Bay and sent them to Saint-Nectaire in the Auvergne in France.

There, seven generations ago, the Fontaines Pétrifiantes were founded to create limestone sculptures through the same process that forms stalactites in a cave. In a normal limestone cave, it takes one hundred years for limestone to grow one centimetre, but in these caves it takes only one year. At the Fontaines objects are left to rapidly encrust in new layers of stone as part of a unique geo-cultural alliance. To cultivate a new branch of this hybrid geology, eroded bricks from the Isle of Bute merge with layers of French rock to create new international conglomerates formed by hand, sea, carbonate life, and cave – through a process of mineral-rich accumulation that began 70,000 years ago in a chain of volcanic eruptions.

Ilana Halperin was born in New York and is based between Glasgow and the Isle of Bute. Her work explores the relationship between geology and daily life. She combines fieldwork in diverse locations—on volcanoes in Hawaii, caves in France, geothermal springs in Japan with an active studio-based practice. Her work has featured in solo exhibitions worldwide including Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité, Artists Space and Mount Stuart. She was Inaugural Artist Fellow at National Museums Scotland. The Library of Earth Anatomy, a permanent commission at The Exploratorium in San Francisco opened 2017. Minerals of New York toured to Leeds Arts University and The Hunterian in 2019. Felt Events, a forthcoming volume on her work edited by Dr. Catriona McAra will be published by Strange Attractor/MIT Press in Spring 2022. Ilana shares her birthday with the Eldfell volcano in Iceland.