The only ‘books’ in Ilana Halperin’s library are samples of glittering mica - so called by geologists because their flaking layers resemble the pages of a manuscript. In Halperin’s symbolic vocabulary, these stones provide a key to the entire exhibition. Stories unfold from chunks of rock; this is geology on an emotive, human level – the mineral world through a poet’s eye.
Each item is carefully chosen and deliberately arranged to convey impressions about life, time and the marriage of chance and inevitable processes which shape geology and humanity alike. Glass formed by meteorites exploding over the Egyptian desert shares a cabinet with so-called ghost minerals from Brazil – crystals through which the trace element of an older mineral can be seen encased. These mineral tomes tell fascinating tales of the Earth and of unlikely encounters. There are brief intersections between human life and the vast geological timeline - moments of contact represented by Icelandic agates formed in the year of Halperin’s birth.
Ilana Halperin is the first recipient of an Artist’s Fellowship at the National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition is inspired by a visit made by the artist on her thirtieth birthday to the Eldfell volcano in Iceland. Halperin was born in the year of Eldfell’s formation, 1973, but their development will coincide for only the briefest of timespans; the exhibition provokes contemplation of the brevity of human life.
Yet we are not insignificant. In our fleeting lives we can act as agents of change, prompting geological beginnings which will long outlive us. The idea of human as geological agent informs ‘The Mineral Body’. For this piece, limestone stalactite sculptures were formed over four months in the calcium-rich springs of Auvergne. Submerged in underground waterfalls, Halperin’s wooden frames were slowly encased in stone. The results are coral-like sculptures - stone tendrils that are at once natural and manmade. Likewise, ‘We Form Geology’ sees a stencil immersed for a year in the run-off from an Icelandic geothermal power plant.
The Glaswegian sculptor says that she stopped carving stones and started thinking about the rocks themselves. In this mineralogical library, stones appear as records of time, but they are nonetheless mutable. ‘The Rock Cycle’ records a testament of such change, staging an encounter between a young coral and its 425-million year old cousins, transformed by time into a marble slab. Stone outlives us and exists on an immense timeline, but it can be changed in the briefest of moments – lightning strikes, a meteorite explodes, and new forms flash into being. This thought-provoking fusion of science and poetry will challenge the perspectives of anyone who has ever found geology dull.