July 29, 2015 / 1:28pm
What is it about rocks that makes them so compelling? We collect, sort, classify, prize, and imitate them. The pitted surface of Harris Johnson’s Rock (2014) is almost convincingly rock-esque. This sculptural imitation employs papier mache and modeling paste to convey heft and density. It sits without ceremony on the gallery floor, incongruous with its surroundings, right next to Johnson’s painting Black Hole (2015), like a jokey refutation of the existential anxiety emanating from that painting and an affirmation of (or aspiration to?) all that is solid and real.
Artist Vija Celmins creates copies that mimic the qualities of rock – To Fix the Image in Memory (1977–82) is a collection of 11 rocks paired with their bronze cast and painted replicas. The replicas are both image and object, conveying the intimacy of careful looking; each speckle and band is faithfully reproduced by hand. Human beings love to construct spaces that look natural and real—it’s a way for us to feel in control of our environment. Rocks and boulders are often employed in landscape design, hauled from invisible sites in far flung parts of the country to the Home Depot, Lowes, and office parks. Hollow rocks are custom molded from fiberglass and placed in shopping malls all over the country to act as covers for unsightly irrigation systems or electrical boxes. There is also an incredible array of rock speakers in every size and finish, designed for outdoor use, piping your iTunes playlist into the landscape.
Rocks, with their honest and humble nature, connect us to geologic time scales and the vastness of existence, yet they can fit in the hand, allowing caressing and squeezing. Both Celmins’s and Johnson’s fake rocks contain traces of the human—they bear brushstrokes and marks of the hand or modelling tool. The moment of recognition of the human personality embedded in the rock double when you realize the disconnect between the real and the copy produces a sense of delight and wonder. Rocks comfort and provide us with something real to hold onto. There is something comforting about knowing that rocks, like stars, will long outlast us and all of our trials—I think that sense of stability and calm is what Johnson is pursuing with this work.
- Elena Harvey Collins