Learning from materials

so, Fort Williams has a pretty uniform selection of rock types that I work with; I’ve done almost all of my stacking right there on the front cove, and I’m familiar with a lot of the individual stones. this grants me a quickness in selection, as I know exactly what types I can grab at any one moment to solve any problem I see within my stack. however, the few times I’ve stacked elsewhere I’ve had some difficulty in grasping the possibilities and limits of the differing local rock types.

above is the sky the first day I was in Belfast, this Monday. the conditions were beautiful and the rocks were wonderful, but I just could not grasp the nature of the things around me. sometimes I look at materials and they just overwhelm me, and I throw out all considerations and just work on a stupid idea that doesn’t relate to my location. invariably, it doesn’t go well. below is the first thing I crafted in Belfast, before I realized I should be headed in a different direction.

invariably when I work without considering the site and materials, my pace slows to a crawl and I can’t seem to focus; it’s as if the rocks are fighting me. I intended with this stack to show a flat, even surface on one side with the jagged, irregular rear exposed. when stacking a wall with a (relatively) flat face, the backside is hidden the supporting stones that tie the face back into the rest of the body; I thought I could show this side. however, without some sort of self-stabilizing geometry such as a curve or angle, the cantilevers on the back edge slowly overwhelm the weight of the flat face, and sure enough, my little wall came tumbling down on me.

I felt as though I had failed, in a way. but right before it fell, something changed in my mind. I had been trying to move a couple of stones to somewhere they would fit just right, over and over, and suddenly I understood the qualities of what I was working, if only just a little bit. even as the wall crumbled, the understanding was blossoming in my mind. the result was tapered spiral, crafted the next day. I wish I had had more time at that beach to make other structures, but with the tide vs. my schedule, it was not to be.

however, it proved to me that if you get in your material, you will come to understand it no matter how difficult the road to knowledge is. and, if you understand your material, you will know your capabilities. don’t think your site isn’t just as much of a material as what you build with, either. that’s one of the benefits of harvesting your material FROM your site, you learn that they can be interchangeable – what’s the difference between a rock underneath my stack, acting as a base, and a stone NEXT to the base stone that keeps it from moving? the landscape is just as much a part of your palette as anything else you bring into it, not a canvas. the canvas is the mind’s consideration of the world it inhabits. this means that I need to start working with more than building materials and site – I need to start playing with time, light, perspective. the form itself no longer suffices.

I want to move forwards again.

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