Northampton Center for the Arts,
8-30 January 2008
Marguerite and Tom, Mill River Installation III, July 2006
Memory Meets Stone was held at the Northampton Center for the Arts during the month of January, 2008, and drew on several installations that I created between 2005 and 2007. Two employed sea and river water as weathering agents, and the third drew on winter weather: cold, snow, and glaring sunlight.
The exhibition featured images from each of these installations, as well as one or two photographs and petrographs from the Fleeting Fossils installations.
The first of the featured installations took place in the Mill River, in Haydenville, Massachusetts, between November 2005 and July 2006. I gathered river rocks, printed them, and returned them to the river in three different installations. During the first two the water level was low, and the petrographs nestled quietly into the river bottom, hardly changed at all by their environment.
In the third the water was higher, and flowing rapidly. The printed rocks were scoured and tumbled, changing appearance dramatically over the course of a three-day installation as I photographed them in different depths, light, and states of deterioration.
On the fourth day, when I went to the river to retrieve the rocks, most had disappeared. Scavenging is as natural as erosion, so I let go of my anger and called it a fitting end to the installation.
A young woman and three children were swimming in the river, near the dam. “Are you the one who put the faces on the rocks?” the mother asked. I nodded, as her young daughter came and took my hand excitedly, leading me to the water. “Look, look!” she cried, “today the rocks have faces. I always thought the river was magic, and now I know it is!”
The first image above shows a petrograph of me as a baby on a Cape Cod beach. The slight signs of distress betray the fact that it was in the sea through one full tide cycle, from low tide through high, back to low again. The next two images depict the same petrograph in the sea as the tide was rippling out, toward the end of the installation.
From April through July, 2006, I made a series of installations at Sandwich Beach, on Cape Cod. (During the summer installations I became known as The Rock Lady. Whenever children saw me coming, lugging bags of petrographs, they’d shout, “Run! Run for your lives! It’s the Rock Lady!” and tear away over the sand. I’d love to know what stories they were spinning…)
In the first installation, in April, the petrographs were tossed and tumbled during a storm.
And a cairn at the water’s edge was dismantled by the tide…
In late winter, 2007, I created a cairn of over 50 petrographs at Childs Park, in Northampton. The rocks were composed of silvery mica-schist from the Goshen Stone Quarry here in Western Massachusetts, and were printed with images of oral storytellers from the American South.
A bit of history: In 1999 I did research in the South for my travel narrative, Sitting up with the Dead: A Storied Journey through the American South (Flamingo, 2001, London; Arcade, 2002, New York). I met with oral storytellers, photographed them, and asked them to tell me tales of their homes. The book records their stories verbatim, along with my tales of encountering the tellers. In the Childs Park installation the southern storytellers’ were voiceless, but their images told beautiful new tales of their encounters with a northern environment, and sparked tale-telling in all who encountered their cairn.
I built the cairn in a public park where it was exposed to rain, sun, and snow, and again recorded changes day-by-day. During the process passersby frequently touched and disassembled the imaged rocks. Their interventions were revelatory: setting aside the outer, cracked and faded petrographs, they discovered that those sheltered inside, printed with images that reached further back in time, remained vivid: a model, perhaps, of the way memory works as we age.
Kwame in snowstorm cairn; Kwame after cairn had been disassembled