• Feature

Rocks, Stones and Dust

Sep 25, 2016
by Yasmin Nurming-Por

Rocks, Stones and Dust, organized by John Hampton, Aboriginal curator-in-residence at the University of Toronto Art Centre (now the Art Museum at the University of Toronto), brings together work by sixteen artists to reimagine human relationships to rocks. Significantly, this exhibition encourages a reevaluation of our understanding of rocks as stagnant objects. In the curatorial text, Hampton cites philosopher Thomas Nagel’s 1974 essay “What is it like to be a Bat?”, in which Nagel argues that it is impossible for humans to understand a bat’s lived experience beyond our own perspective of what this experience might be.

Through the engaging lens of object-oriented philosophy— that is, rejecting anthropocentric models of existence and experience—Hampton challenges Nagel’s position on consciousness by searching for another way to question the being of rocks. In the exhibition, rocks are presented as documents of time that gradually shift form. But we are still unable to understand what it is to be a rock, nor do we ask: does the rock see me?

Rocks, Stones and Dust
is bookended by two works that reject the notion of rocks as sites of passive reception: Jason de Haan’s Swallow All the Brain (2015) and Bonne Devine’s Phenomenology (2015). De Haan’s work places ammonite fossils atop household humidifiers, effectively repopulating the air with fossilized organisms. Similarly, Devine’s Phenomenology situates a small piece of uranium beside a rock found in her community in Serpent River, where uranium mining is common, emphasizing that both rocks come from the same place. Together, de Haan and Devine challenge understandings of what rocks do, how they transcend static time and how they might affect our bodies.

FASTWURMSCAT(CoreAffectTraffic) FASTWÜRMS, C.A.T. (CoreAffectTraffic), 2015, raku, geological samples from FASTWÜRMS's collection and C.A.T. system configurations and iconography, dimensions variable
Between de Haan’s and Devine’s work, Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok’s six steatite sculptures, all less than eight inches tall, are displayed in a vitrine. Grouped together, they form a transgenerational community of sculptural families that span nearly twenty years, with titles such as MOTHER WITH CHILDREN, MOTHER AND CHILDREN, FACES, MOTHER AND CHILD, GROUP OF PEOPLE and FAMILY. The sculptures do not reveal themselves as human forms; instead, they point to an imagined relationship between human and stone.[1]

Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok (1934–2012 Arviat), FACES, 1978, carved stone, 6.4 x 5.7 x 3.2cm
Tasseor Tutsweetok’s work situates subtle carvings alongside the natural rock, blurring the boundaries between rock and sculpture. For the artist, this approach is tied to “imagin[ing] the shape” rather than “copying” a form.[2] The resulting subtle interventions on the stone reveal a pre-existent being, alongside which the artist’s own markings “turn to stone.”[3] Carvings that require patient looking—perhaps a patience not usually bestowed upon rocks—slowly unveil the suggestion of a face, an eye, a mouth or a nose looking back at the viewer.

This is a review from the Spring 2016 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.


[1] Ingo Hessel, “Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok.” Feheley Fine Arts, 2015.
[2] Ibid.
[3] From poet Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok (1982): “My hands turn to stone / My feet turn to stone / I turn to stone / All of Me.”

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