Frosted and fissured rock faces, Iceland, 2011, Lanzarote 2012
I have, for many years been photographing old walls, fascinated by their patina, intrigued by the narratives that can be constructed or intuited from patterns of erosion, decay, graffiti etc. More recently, I have photographed the crumbling walls of old churches (As Above), and the old obelisk near to my home, and the ancient standing stones at Arbor Low. On our numerous travels, myself and my wife have been subconsciously drawn to volcanic areas such as Iceland, Lanzarote, Santorini, and have trodden paths and caverns that many have followed into areas of volcanic activity, volcanoes being to a great extent, the birthing place of stone.
Aging and Graffitied walls at Delapre Abbey, Northampton
Whether consciously or not, I have accumulated a body of photographs that intimately describe a personal relationship with stone. Stone is elemental, monumental, perpetual, mythic, sacred. It is embedded into our existence, a universal constant in the form of walls, paths, highways, grave markers, way markers, sculpture, jewellery, and so much more.
I have recently re-read an old book by Don Robbins, “The Secret Language of Stone”, in which he argues compellingly that stone has within it the capacity to “record”, or “store” fragments of conversation into it’s crystalline lattice, and that stone inherently accumulates, and transmits psychic information. Given that stone, crystal, and it’s derivatives have properties conducive to the storing of memory in computers ( the word “silicon” has etymological roots in the Greek word silex – hard stone or flint), then it would take no great leap of the imagination to assume that this might at least in principle, be possible.
Robins’ argument cycles through a variety of scientific explanations, which eventually evaporate towards the end of the book, and leave me with the impression that at best, this is still only conjecture, rather than a well constructed scientific theory. The book itself was consigned to the now somewhat pejorative ranks of New Age thought and belief, and Robins’ theory became outmoded and forgotten.
Archaic graffiti on the old obelisk at Obelisk Rise, Northampton. This obelisk was built in 1764 by Lord Stafford of Boughton Manor, in memory of the then Duke of Devonshire
Something of Robins’ notion, for me still clings though, if only poetically. If stone has the capacity to subjectively record fragments of conversation, how might it do this? How would it actively select, or de-select those fragments? Would there have to be a particular frequency of voice or sound that it sympathetically resonates with? Would voices have to be loud, violent, or simply more dramatic and imposing? And how would it “play” these fragments back, and under what conditions? How much memory would it have, given that the majority of stones have existed for many millennia, and must have been exposed to millions of frequencies and conversations? This inner questioning throws up so many questions, but so many possibilities, and potentials for me as an artist.
On our recent visit to Arbor Low, and from previous experiences with ancient monuments, I have often noted that one of the primary human impulses on being confronted with these monoliths is through touch. We seem to be inexorably compelled to make tactile contact with ancient stones and monuments. At Arbor Low, I observed a woman and her husband caressing the recumbent stones, and “hugging” some in a way that arguably exhibited the desire for intimate contact with the ancient past. Perhaps there is that need within all of us, to re-connect with our past, to re-establish pathways and bonds with our forefathers?
During most of my encounters with the ancient past, whether it be in built form, or in the form of caves, caverns,rock faces, volcanoes, grave markers etc, I have also felt compelled to intuit or imagine the activities, conversations, and lifestyle imprinted by their occupants, Perhaps this “Lithic Memory” is hard -wired into all of us, if only we knew how to summon it from within the stones themselves?