Archive for the ‘stone’ Category
The National Park Service has released its new plan for Yosemite. In 1987, Congress designated the Merced and the Tuolumne as Wild and Scenic Rivers, and now after years of study the park has put together a plan to comply. I’ve been reading through some of the plan, trying to understand the details, but I haven’t made a lot of headway, and the plan is only open for public comment until the 18th. The report is here with links to a summary and information about commenting.
From what I’ve read, a lot of the proposals make sense. For instance, the proposed expansion of Camp 4 is desperately needed. During the high season, people start lining up hours before sunrise and by 6AM there’s a line of people in sleeping bags waiting for the kiosk to open, camping out in hopes of getting a campsite. I don’t even try to get a site any more. So that proposal is easy to support.
Proposed development in the west end of the valley, near El Cap Meadow, is more of a concern. I LOVE El Cap Meadow, in large part because it is one of the less developed parts of the valley. I haven’t read deep enough into the plan to find out the details of what is planned. The Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group, has a form letter that more or less represents my point of view until I get a chance to find out a bit more.
I also wish I knew more about the proposal to remove Sugar Pine bridge, the stone-clad bridge near Curry Village. According to the report, the bridge impedes the river’s flow during high water. You can kind of see in these Library of Congress photos that the abutments are out in the flow of the river.
I wish I was going to have a chance to read more about that before the comment period ends. If anyone know or finds any substantial info, please let me know. Sugar Pine is probably not the single most iconic of the Yosemite bridges, but as a group the stone bridges are quite wonderful. There aren’t a lot of stone bridges in California. It would be shame for it to go.
I feel like I should be finished with my trip south and get back to Bay Area subjects, but the last thing to post from my trip was my visit to see Levitated Mass. It’s a 340 ton boulder-turned-sculpture at the LA County Museum by land artist Michael Heizer. I don’t have a strong opinion about Heizer’s work, but I was pretty fascinated by this project when I heard about it. As far as I know it’s the biggest and heaviest rock ever moved. Heizer got the idea in the late 60′s and then spent about forty years looking for the right boulder. Then it took 5 more years to raise the $5-10 million dollars for the project, including $1.5 million just to move it about 100 miles from the quarry to the museum. They had to use a special trailer 260 feet long and 32 feet wide with 196 tires, drive only at night, not exceed 8 miles per hour, and I think they had to move or take down some telephone wires and traffic lights. There were several delays involving the permits required to travel through all of the different jurisdictions. Different challenges than the ones that faced the Brits who built stonehenge or the Gauls who moved around the menhirs, but still pretty compelling.
Having spent so many of my working hours moving big rocks and even more of my leisure hours climbing on them, I thought I was the target audience for this piece. It turns out I’ve probably spent a little too much time focused on rocks, because I liked the concept more than the execution. The mass just doesn’t seem levitated; it’s obviously sitting on metal brackets and straddling a concrete trench. The boulder is supposed to look huge, but it’s diminished by all of the open space around it and by the long trench. The concrete trench is kind of beautiful in its own way, but it’s so deep you can’t touch or really interact with the boulder. And the climber in me feels like the face you first see is really the backside of the rock, the downclimb. I’d like to see the prow facing towards the entrance.
But despite my complaints, it’s hard not to like a great big rock on an elaborate pedestal you can walk through and there are a lot of impressive things about pulling off a project of this scale. I don’t regret making the effort to see it, and everyone else there seemed to like it too; Facebook must be filled with photos of people posing with their hands up so it looks like they’re holding the rock. Boulders are fundamentally cool, especially 340 ton ones, and this one was fun in a ‘giant whale sculpture in front of the aquarium’ kind of way. I just wish they’d let me climb on it.
I kept track of links while I was following the project:
an earlier sculpture called Levitated Mass, a fountain in New York that seems somewhat levitational when the water is turned on
an interview with Heizer when Levitated Mass was under construction.
Infrascape Design wrote several posts about the boulder.
a couple of videos in this article
another article that includes a video of the arrival
a long NY Times feature on Heizer
Kind of like the way I started paying close attention to quarry photos after I began doing stonework, I also started noticing whenever writers go on about stone. Poets, I’ve noticed, really like to talk about it, it seems to be a way for them to identify themselves with timelessness. I don’t really mind the romanticization, I probably do that myself, but I always listen to see if they know the material, for instance if they know the difference between stone and rock. (Rock is the raw form, stone has been shaped by humans or natural forces.) One of the main poets to romanticize stone, and one who seems to pass the rock and stone test, Jack Gilbert, passed away recently.
The monks petition to live the harder way,
in pits dug farther up the mountain,
but only the favored ones are permitted
that scraped life. The syrup-water and cakes
the abbot served me were far too sweet.
A simple misunderstanding of pleasure
because of inexperience. I pull water up
hand over hand from thirty feet of stone.
My kerosene lamp burns a mineral light.
The mind and its fierceness lives here in silence.
I dream of women and hunger in my valley
for what can be made of granite. Like the sun
hammering this earth into pomegranates
and grapes. Dryness giving way to the smell
of basil at night. Otherwise, the stone
feeds on stone, is reborn as rock,
and the heart wanes. Athena’s owl calling
into the barrenness, and nothing answering.
from The Great Fires
Obituaries and recent articles about him tend to refer to him as obscure or unfairly neglected, to the point where he sort of managed the trick of being famous for not being famous. I think it’s more that he just kept his head down, working away a bit like a drystone waller, making things that could easily be forgotten but also last forever.
In a comment on my last post, James mentioned Edward Burtynsky’s quarry photos which are really striking and I highly recommend for anyone who hasn’t seen them. Coincidentally, SF MOMA currently has an exhibit of photos by a Japanese photographer, Naoya Hatakeyama, who works in the same vein as Burtynsky, photographing large scale human impacts on the landscape including quarries. His Lime Hills (Quarry Series) has images where the quarries are horrible scars, but also ones where they seem quite sculptural and aesthetic.
Along with the photos, at the museum there is also a very cool video of quarry blasting called Twenty-Four Blasts. If you sit up close to the screen, the explosions fill your vision. The video doesn’t seem to be online, but SF MOMA posted a slideshow of stills from the best sequence.
I went the exhibit to see the quarry series, but probably the most powerful images, especially with the big storm right now, are of his hometown in Japan, Rikuzentakata, which was destroyed by last year’s tsunami. It was impressive to see such carefully composed photos, knowing that this was his hometown and that his mother died in the event. He talks about it in a video at Wired.
There was also a slideshow of his photos of the town before the tsunami, and though the exhibitors chose not to present the before and after photos as literal side by side comparisons, there was an eerie similarity to some of the compositions. I tried drawing thumbnails at the speed of the slideshow — twenty seconds per image — and then later colored them at about the same pace. It’s rather off-topic for this blog, but completely current with all of the images of flooding on the east coast, so I included them below the fold. (more…)
A recent book about stonework, Stone: A Legacy and Inspiration for Art, caught my eye with its focus on the raw material and craft of stonework rather than the finished product that seems to fill most of the stone books out there. Turns out the book has a companion website, STONE Project, with a lot of great content as well, including photos, a stone glossary, and tons of videos, including the rather striking one above showing one of the more un-OSHA-compliant workers I’ve ever seen. Sandals, a sari, and a big sledge, gotta love it. The videos are rather raw and cinema verite, and overall the website is probably more for the serious stone lovers out there, but then personally I’m convinced that everyone in the world loves stone, so there you go. Good stuff, definitely worth a look if you’re interested in the process of stonework. From their Introduction page:
STONE Project aims:
to collect information about stone through the eyes of artists, masons, quarry workers, anthropologists, and cultural and literary thinkers.
to discover differences in how stone is understood and worked throughout the world.
to understand both the ‘physical processes’ and the ‘thinking approaches’ when working with stone.
to show these modes of understanding in ways that are broadly applicable and transferable.
At the heart of STONE Project is the shared belief that research on stone can also contribute to a further understanding of:
hands, tools and material -
tacit skills -
reductive thinking -
STONE Project’s ultimate aim is to:
… assemble all research and achievements in an archive for the use of current and future generations, a tool which anyone can use.
This summer I worked for the first time in several years with some Belgian Block, installing it in a parking strip in Berekeley. Belgian Block (called setts in some places, there are two photos of guys making them in the quarry photos I posted a little while back) famously came over to San Francisco as ballast in ships. The stones, usually about 5″ x 7″, a size that was supposedly easy to fit between the timbers of the ships, would be off-loaded whenever there was a heavy cargo and then used as paving. You can still buy versions at the stoneyards sometimes, but I mostly come across it when it’s getting taken out of one site and reused at another. It’s better than cobblestone, but still not really the best surface to walk on; not so great for a patio or entrance walkway, just about right for a parking strip.
This batch was once part of the Embarcadero. When the city upgraded the paving, they allowed people to come collect it. The stones were set in mortar for a driveway, then demoed and stored for a number of years, and now they’re in the parking strip. This phase will presumably last a while, but who knows what they might be used for after that. I usually like to think of my stonework as permanent, but the stone’s history makes me comfortable with the idea of it moving on to a new project at some future date.
Along with the Belgian Block, the garden has two large, funky walls that were built by a previous owner. The walls are several feet thick and seven or eight feet tall, with ivy growing from the top and jade plants from the sides. The stonework is pretty crude, a mix of stone and recycled concrete held together with rough, smeary masonry, and the backside of one wall even has chunks of metal in it, including what looks like a rusted out car radiator. But there’s also a certain grace to it. The walls have several cavelike grottos that feel a little creepy but sort of beautiful at the same time.
There are a total of four grottos, but the larger ones were too dark to really photograph. I bet they look pretty cool at night with candles lit inside them.
The backside of the main wall is recycled concrete. All of the best rock is on the inside of the wall, none of it on the parts facing to the exterior.
One end of the main wall has several flower pots embedded in the mortar. The other end has a post in the middle, I guess for a gate that no longer exists.
The second wall is in the background of this last photo, with three different kinds of rock, including a single flagstone set as a shiner. The neighbors have pretty much hidden their side of the wall, the side with the metal chunks in it, behind bamboo. The tree trunk on the left is from a beautiful Purple European Beech and there are a couple of nice Japanese Maples. All together, it makes for a very interesting, very Berkeley kind of garden.
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