This is the howl that came when the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report of 2017 on the impacts of climate change on the future of the planet was published and then greeted with a stunning silence: and soon after that, the same stunning silence that greeted the Stern Report of 2008 on the financial implications of climate change for the planet.
The sculpture was carved with an acknowledgement of human frailty in the face of death and loss and change. It's a monument to those in the future, who come after us, who will bear the dreadful repercussions of the profligacy and cruelties of our time.
In the age of this piece of stone, in the hundreds of millions of years shown in the physical, material presence of it, and its variegated beauty, lies the story of it’s formation through deep geological time; geology and physics can read in stone the creation of the planet, it allows us to imagine the cosmological time scale, the billions of years it took for our solar system and galaxy to form. We can start to get a hint of a sense of the pace and power of the creation of our planet, and our universe........ a notion of where, and what, in fact we are.
Along side the howl, there is also the grace that comes with the recognising knowledge of how purely beautiful is the planet, in all its complexity, and the love we have for it and all its inhabitants, the total biosphere of miraculous life.
And how full of sorrow and bewilderment we are for what we have lost, and are losing; and how gently, we might one day surrender to the sense that now we are here to serve the Earth, and the Earth’s future...our future in the fullest sense.
A STONE STORY
NOTES ON WORKING WITH STONE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
When I first started carving pieces of stone, I was constantly saying to myself: this is extraordinary – what on earth am I doing? I seem to know what to do, how to find a form I like, but how, why, what for? What is it that is happening when I carve stone? Many answers came, none the final one: but the best answer is – I am doing Nature’s bidding. I am a part of Nature, and I am a manifestation in human form of her creativity; me carving stone is one of the infinite ways nature expresses itself. I am compelled by everything that I have ever experienced, or was born from, or know about, to do this, here, now...
There is a story told in every piece of stone that is more magnificent than any creation myth; it’s a story that shocked and astonished the Christian geologists of the late 1700’s in England, when they first started to decipher, through the fossil record, the history of life on Earth. Then, through learning to read the tracks and traces of the cataclysmic and remorseless geological changes that formed the planet, this story was uncovered which led directly to the computing of the true age of the Earth, the Solar System, our galaxy and the Universe. The science we depend on in our everyday lives is tied in, inextricably, to that history of learning to read the fossil record, in the stone, in the land.
So here we are, integral parts of the natural world, acting as natures’ agents, infinitesimally tiny players in the vast cosmos. In my particular little corner, when I carve a face into the stone, I seem to be acting out my self consciousness onto the stone, a stone that holds some of the history of the globe, formed of the very same original kind of material that I am formed of – a process begun billions and billions of years ago in the origins of our universe. I put a little modern consciousness back onto nature, who made both me and the stone. I carve the stone into familiar forms, carrying with them an emotional charge; the forms are beautiful, the stone broken. The expressions of sadness, of reflection, are easy to read – I like to think that anyone who ever lived on Earth, anywhere, any-when, would recognise these forms, and the expressions.
These expressions, and the breaks, showing there on the pieces of old stone, also tell another story: there is in our human nature, fully created by the laws of Nature, something urgent, always desirous for more, a short-sightedness and self obsession that while being born of necessity, of survival, now appears to lead to self destruction: this self-destruction has two effects: one, we destroy, profoundly change, our physical habitat as we strive to feed this infinite desirousness, and two, we lose our dignity in that process. Our dignity is made of care, of a rational and feeling response to our surroundings, to the land, the sea, the mountains, the air and of course our fellow creatures, both human and all the other inhabitants of Earth. The whole of the rest of the natural creation in fact.
So my work is a kind of temple activity now, devotional; when I work a piece of stone, the mineral occlusions of the past are revealed, the layers of sediment unpeeled; I may open in one knock something that took millions of years to form: dusts settling, water dripping, forces pushing, minerals growing – material and geological revelations: the story of time on Earth shows here, sometimes startling, always beautiful.
What is this beauty? The shapes I impose on the stones are formal, discs, waves, the shape made by a planet as it moves through time around the heavens, or the familiar faces and bodies of my own species; graceful, strong, thoughtful, reflective – there are no huge mysteries here, nothing particularly demanding.
But the stone itself, that’s something else. The loveliness, power and strength in the stone is the raw beauty of nature herself; I can put a more or less familiar shape onto it, like a suit of clothes, and then eyes can look in and see what has been there for millions or billions of years, made with water, made with fire and gravity, made with time; majestic and ancient, and alien, our ancestor, part of that from which we came.
And along with this readable embodiment of the past, comes a sense of the inexorable drama that is the Earth’s history, the almost incomprehensible passage of time. The Earth behaves as she must; she is acted upon and obeys the laws of Nature. But we, mankind, the most complex thing in the known universe, now turn on our creator, our mother planet, changing her into a different, less hospitable place.
We walk blindly into our future, seeing the past, but seemingly unable to understand the depredations we wreak on the land, the air and the sea, the harm we do.
The average Westerner doesn’t see or suffer much of these changes – we suffer the age old pains of Death, disease and loss; we may hear a bit in the news, but our supermarkets are well stocked, our banks and corporations profiting; we may have heard that in the global South the deserts are growing, or the floods are destroying the fields, or that the glaciers are melting. We hear that perhaps the Amazonian forests will soon be too dry not to burn: that when the polar ice caps melt, the seas will rise up onto the land: that the global South will be hardest hit: that we may well survive quite comfortably, those of us with money and choices, and that the African poor will not. Oh.
So these old stones, that tell us the story of the Earth, the studies of which pushed away the confines of superstition and ignorance, these old stones will outlive us, and remain like the ruins of a lost civilisation. In case technology doesn’t sort the problems, and we don’t all make it through to a happy future, these stone carvings will lie waiting to be read in some future-scape of strangeness, and be a memento of us, and a memorial to us.
The Earth is and has been so powerful, so wild, so completely the source and the surrounding of all that we are and are capable of – a long view of it shows it to be utterly beautiful and utterly rare. But our primitive respect and our physical sense of her honour is crumbling. And somehow we have become the gun that we shoot into the hearts of the innocent. We destroy, and as we destroy, we watch ourselves dancing and weeping on their graves.
And so I protest, in stone; I want people to imagine what we will look like to posterity, how we would judge ourselves if we had such vision, and what we would do differently now: I want to speak down the years and tell the future of that bit of it’s past that was us – about what happens in our hearts now – about our surprise, our fear and sorrow, and shame – our apology. These pieces can be seen as memorials to a lost future, to lost wildernesses, to lost innocence; to the pointlessly, needlessly dead.
And also they can be testaments to our desperate dream, to somehow make it better again – that I am, we are, sorry, angry, forlorn, for the Earth and for ourselves.
I carve in stone the fierce need in millions of us to retrieve some semblance of dignity for the human race in its place on Earth. We can show ourselves to posterity as a pitiful and brutal life form – that what we are best at is rapacity, greed, and wilful ignorance, and we can also show that we are creatures of great love for our whole planet, that everyone of us is a worshipper in her temple of life.
There is a great story told of how our ancestors were the best, the most successful hunters and warriors and breeders; the cleverest, most creative strategists; the lucky; the survivors, who were also the best poets and singers and story tellers. We are their descendants, and here’s another story, in stone. Our past is gone; our future is endangered. Here are stony tears, pathos, and passion; a subtle memory of stillness, of joyful surrender to nature: a dignity.
Emily Young, London, 2007
A LIGHT TOUCH AND A LONG VIEW
When looking into a piece of stone, one can read its history, both its geological formation far back in distant time, and its more recent experiences of the world; the surface signs of sun, wind and water, the cuts and bruises left by its journey out of the ground or the quarry.
To see how beautiful are these traces is to be lifted out of the present and to touch for a brief moment the natural processes that formed our planet, almost beyond human comprehension in their immensity and violence, almost inconceivable in their time scale. And behind the creation of our planet, hangs the creation of our solar system, and behind that, our galaxy, and behind that, the universe.
The grace, power and pleasure the natural world can show us is what drives the making of these pieces. The human form, the most complex of all life forms on earth, is carved out of stone, out of the same minerals, elements, atoms and molecules that have always made up our physical universe. These carvings, cut from stone hundreds of millions if not billions of years old, can survive a few more millions, or billions of years into the future; (to be seen by whom?). Our senses let us know what we can of our planet; we are always limited, always a part of the whole. The body is those senses, biologically constructed out of the same minerals, elements, atoms and molecules that form the stone, the land, the planet.
These angels, warriors and poets who people the stone, are born of sunny, windy hill tops, and the dark light of caves; a kind of ecstasy, a stillness, a remembered energy from childhood, from dreams of fish memory, from dreams of flying and the silence of stone.
The torsoes are stiller still, holding the feel of lying on warm grass, or stone, feeling the hard deep planet under the back, winding back a trail to the first kinds of births, a frozen moment of fullness, in stone.
At the same time, I want the work to bear witness over time against our failures, and to stand as a testament to our 'feeble tinsel winged hopes' and successes - our aspirations towards compassion for this precious beautiful globe and all who sail in her amazing arms.
Emily Young, 2005
WORKING WITH STONE
A piece of stone, formed a hundred million years ago, worked now, could still be here in another hundred million. Who would see it? What would they see?
The stone is hard. It takes diamonds to cut it. I can hurl myself at a piece of stone, full strength, with hammer and chisel and not a lot happens. I do that a few times, and it will accept a small mark. It's strong, wild, ancient and it has a cold dark heart.
The stones seem to exist in an utterly different way to us, so slow, so silent and so long-lived; but to me they're kinds of ancestors. They are made (like us) of particles that were born in starbursts, in galactic winds, in that first big bang. They participated more closely in the formation of the earth. There’s a poetry in them, in their impossibly long slow dance. They were here before and will be after us. They show their history, and thereby ours, and the earth's and the universe's.
Some stones ring or sing when I knock them with the right thing. The sound they make will tell if the stone is sound, solid, flaw-free, good to work, a quality that can be completely musical.
The exterior of a piece of stone is often a disguise: old, dull, weathered: but after a few hours of polishing, its surface shifts and reveals an extraordinary world of colours, whirls, stripes, dots; configurations of inhuman complexity and beauty.
Certain stones, when I break them open, give off a quick flash of stink, of sulphur, or petrol, or the ocean, (seaweed? old fish?). I know as I fill my head with the brief whiff of stony breath that the smell was sealed away, over how many millions of years ago?
Sometimes I'll polish a piece of stone and it'll gradually show a semblance of water, or the night sky, or flames, or honeycomb, or feathers, or snakeskin, or clouds, or melting ice cream and I am delighted and surprised, charmed.
In the past, stone was used to tell stories, to let people know about the Gods and Queens and Princes, the athletes and victors, the famous and the glorious, the vanquished and the foes. Stone was the best material to serve man's grandest ambitions. I don't want to make the stone my servant: a much bigger wilder story can be shown by the stone itself, of its history, of the earth's, and the universe's: the geologists of the C19th read in the stone a better explanation of our origins than the fabulous mix of myth, poetry, and history told in Genesis. Perhaps I use the human form to introduce people to the stone itself, so it can tell its story, which is part of my story, our story.
The word angel is derived from the Sanskrit Anjiras, meaning messenger from the gods to man. It seems to me that stones can also be seen as messengers from the gods. They are carrying information from our past, our creator.
The stones whisper to us about things older than we can conceive, gloriously mysterious, yet they are hard, and real; I can touch them with my hands, look into them with a microscope. Here, now, I make my marks on them, and then they carry on with their journey. Some of these stones are over 3 billion years old, and it is just possible that they could last for another 3 billion, becoming then messengers from us.
The looks on the faces of the angels are not planned as such, they arrive and surprise me often with their softness and sadness, and strength and calm. But like all good angels, they have a certain graveness, an objectivity, a touch of the infinite, and a certain compassion.
The discs, lunar or solar, are also like angels, heavenly bodies, stars, whirling in dark space, carrying information about our origins and throwing out light to us.
The great discs of our solar system, the planets, our moon, the sun, are embedded deep in the history and creation of our planet. The Disc is the mother of all shapes, primal and ubiquitous, responded to by all life forms in the shape of the sun, the disc of light, photons streaming through to all of us here on earth. And galaxies are spiral discs, and in sub atomic physics, innumerable tiny circles dance and jiggle together, and in our our solar system we whirl together in great swooping cycles around our mother sun.
Emily Young, 2003