Sunday, March 11, 2012

Floating Rocks

Los Angeles has been witnessing the movements of a large rock.  A boulder which is supposed to weigh 340 tons.  I wonder how they weighed it, not that it matters.

At a reported cost of $10,000,000 (I calculate that's roughly $1 per ounce, considerably more than first class postage) the boulder just finished a very slow, very public journey through urban Los Angeles, picking up not moss but publicity as it moved towards the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Public relations-wise the museum must figure the ten mil is money well spent.  We are told this is one of the largest objects ever moved.  A feat of engineering to be sure.  Lots of good pictures of the moving rock here.

Once at its destination, the boulder will be suspended in mid-air.

No, not really.  It will be installed above a trench through which people can walk.  The rock will only seem to be float.  Giving it the appearance of floating is, I guess, what makes this project art.  It will be called Levitated Mass and it is the concept of artist Michael Heizer.

Here's some real art in which a large rock actually does float high in the air.  It's the painting by Rene Magritte entitled The Castle in the Pyrenees.  (click it for an enlargement)

I saw this painting in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  I was there in 1987 with my Aunt Marion and Uncle Ben.  In spite of rules against doing just that, they photographed me standing next to it.   I would love to post that picture here but, alas, I can't find it.  It is lost in the decades of my accumulated crap.  Maybe the snapshot will turn up someday.

Here is another floating rock in the Middle East.  It seems that some people in that part of the world believe that large boulders can float in midair.  It's probably a Photoshop trick, don't you know.  Still, the mother and child speaking in this video seem pretty much convinced.

The best example of gravity defying stonework, however, comes from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - the original 1980 BBC radio version.

This happens in the fourth episode of the "secondary" phase of programs.  Arthur Dent and his companions Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android land their probability-propelled spaceship in a mysterious white cave with smooth walls.  The cave turns out to be the Nutramatic cup.

Arthur falls from the cave and finds out about its origin from a bird-person on whose back he very improbably falls.  Here's the passage:
Arthur: "It looks like … like … just like a plastic cup hanging in the sky.  It's about a mile long."
Bird: "Looks like plastic.  Carved from solid marble there."
Arthur: "But the weight of it.  What's supporting it?  What keeps it there?"
Bird: "Art."
Arthur: "Art?"
Bird: "It's only part of the main statue.  Fifteen miles high. It's directly behind us but I'll circle round in a moment."
Arthur: "Fifteen miles high?"
Bird: "Very impressive from up here with the morning sun gleaming on it."
Arthur: "But what is it.  What's worth a statue 15 miles high?"
Bird: "It was of great symbolic importance to our ancestors.  It's called Arthur Dent Throwing the Nutramatic Cup."
Arthur: "Sorry, what did you say?"
Bird: "There.  What do you think of it?"
Not enough space or time in this post to explain the entire origin story of the statue of Arthur throwing the cup.  It's quality Douglas Adams.  There's the "Shoe Event Horizon", the Lintilla clones and the Dolmansaxlil Galactic Shoe Corporation publicity film.  Great stuff.

Meanwhile, back here in Los Angeles we will soon have our own floating rock, Levitated Mass.  As mentioned, the rock will be held up by a contraption of concrete and steel. Here's a video showing the trench in its early stages:

The Los Angeles rock will, clearly, not be held up by "art" as Magritte's castle or the Nutramatic cup are. Nor will it float because of any sort of religious faith. It will appear to float by virtue of some sort of optical illusion.  Shortly Los Angeles will discover just how good that illusion is.

It is fair to wonder what the illusion will mean.  I assume that like most art this piece is supposed to have some sort of meaning.  The word monumental is used quite a lot.  Levitated Mass is a monument, I guess.  Monuments are supposed to memorialize things.  And Levitated Mass does.  Here's a quote from a LACMA press release:
It is dedicated to the memory of Nancy Daly, former chair of LACMA’s board of trustees and an influential advocate for children and the arts in Los Angeles.
Nancy died in 2010 and Levitated Mass was conceived of in 1968.  So Nancy Daly is not an intrinsic part of the artistic experience.  She's someone important to the funding.  That's arts reality.

The press release also informs us:
Taken whole, Levitated Mass speaks to the expanse of art history—from ancient traditions of creating artworks from monolithic stones, to modern forms of abstract geometries and cutting-edge feats of engineering.
Ah! So maybe Levitated Mass is a modern day Stonehenge or  Chichen Itza - but one without any astronomical relationship.  That's because you can't see many stars from the Wilshire district.

Maybe it's an abstract geometric work - one which will inspire onlookers to consider its aesthetic form and artistic composition.  Probably not.  It's mostly just a found object - a random, if very large, rock that the artist convinced certain powerful people would look good from underneath.

If nothing else, Levitated Mass will cause us to wonder what we might have done with an extra $10,000,000.

Mostly it will become a conundrum for passers-by who will ask "What's that rock doing there?"  Maybe rock climbers will use it for practice.  It will also be a great target for taggers.

Maybe someday, hundred of years from now, when the steel and concrete under the rock have crumbled, and the people of LA have forgotten the spectacle of moving it through the streets and no one even remembers that LACMA ever existed, and if it hasn't sunk into the tar pits, someone will rediscover the art of stone sculpture and carve faces in the rock.

Those faces could be recognizable ones from late 20th and early 21st century Los Angeles:  faces most likely to survive in popular culture for generation after generation.  I suggest Mickey Mouse, Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian and O.J. Simpson.

Here's Eagle Rock, an inspiring natural fixture quite near to Pasadena.  The rock doesn't float in the air - but it reminds us of animals who do.  It would cost much more than $10 mil to move.

The picture came from here.

Rolling Rock Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Kraig Grady said...

At least you can rest assured it isn't a forgery

ericnp said...

This is just up the street from me here, suspended not floating...

David Ocker said...

So Eric, what is that sculpture called? Who's the artist?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

sorry - poor attempt at word play. Your rock on FB looked like a butt view of the Venus of Willendorf.

I do wish I had made it to catch the rock passing. Art is a strange playing field. Whenever anyone deviates within the limits of their expression, it gets thrown under the broader term art. Thus performance and earth etc. I personally like the ever so charming teddy bear of Tim Hawkinson. That it's on a college campus, where the kids are living away from home for the first time is perfect conceptualism