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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Memory Meets Stone,

Northampton Center for the Arts,
8-30 January 2008

Ray, Snowstorm Installation, February 2007

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 Mill River

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!”

Sandwich Beach, Cape Cod

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 the second installation I was too ambitious, and tried to monitor several small cairns at once: two built on jetty rocks near the tideline, and another series in an inlet in a tidal marsh. I lost everything to the sea.

For the third installation I dug out my parents' old Agfa slides from the 1960s of my family's beach vacations on Cape Cod. I then projected the slides and re-shot the scenes in black-and-white, and created a series of petrographs with forty-year-old images. These petrographs were in the sea through a full tidal exchange. Some emerged unscathed; others images nearly disintegrated.

It was a hot day and I wished I'd brought my bathing suit. Eventually two little girls, Sophie and Madeline, persuaded me to swim with them in my clothes. They helped me retrieve the rocks; so these images are dedicated to them.

Dave and Julius fishing, Cape Cod jetty, 1962

June, Craig, and Pam on an inner tube, Cape Cod, 1961

Storytellers’ Cairn, Childs Park

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

This color image is of Kwame's petrograph after it had been buried in a cairn and snowstorm for three weeks. It is one of the examples of oxidation bleeding from the rock (mica-schist) through the emulsion to color the image itself.

Ray in flurries, following cairn disassemblage

Ray with harmonica, tree cairn

Ray, Storytellers' carin

Cornelia in snow, tree cairn

Storyteller and her mom, after cairn had been disassembled

Petrographs evoke the cycle of life and death and may be seen as premonitions of fossils-to-be. They celebrate our physical connection to the earth by suggesting how place shapes us—the rocks’ ancient histories, formed and distorted by glaciers, seas, fire, and ice, become the miniature landscapes that gives mass and form to our memories—and how everything we do imprints, for better or worse, on the landscape.


Joseph said...

Wonderful petrographs! What are the exact dates for "Fleeting Fossils"?

Laura said...

Pam, I am so inspired, once again, by your work--so imaginative and lovely. Thank you for making this world more poetic and beautiful. Can't wait to see more....Wish I could be there in person. Congratulations!

Holly said...

I loved seeing your work again on your Petrograph Gallery. Your presentation at Snow farm was wonderful also. Thank you for sharing your treasured family recipes too!
Holly Heaslip