A Stone's Progress issue 2

Page 1

A Stone’s Progress

Or Organization out of Chaos A short monumental walk on the eastern edge of Kirknewton on a constrained Site between railroad tracks, fencing, trees and a road. Basalt crystals are from the Kaimes site, above, and donated by Dalmhoy Estate, aggregates and other basalt materials mostly donated by Tarmac Ltd, Ravelrig Quarry. Project initiated and overseen by Stewart McKenna. A Stone Progresses, an Art Pilgrim Progresses, Progress in the Arts Charles Jencks


Transport Speedway. The site’s extreme linearity, with four lines all disappearing in perspective, offers drama, a natural order of expectation, surprise and fulfilment. Imagine a linear meander, a green path elevated on the existing earth berm above the mad rush of traffic. Gently cut into the trees and shrubs, four times it comes upon basalt crystals – columns, fragments, figures -- cosmic art! Placed in nature’s art, local to the area. From one end of the site to the other one would see, and understand through installation, a story that has ancient roots. The narrative of primitive beauty emerging from processes deep within the earth. Gaia, earthquake, volcanic rumbles witnessed here 380 million years ago. Arthur’s Seat remains. The Giant’s Causeway and Fingal’s Cave. Metaphors and myths grow around such basalt outcrops. Today we have a further understanding, the accounts of geology and chemistry, the way basalt is pushed up by heat through the earth’s crust which then solidifies into crystal forms, often of six smooth sides.

Geometrical order grows from chaotic lava – A Stone’s Progress – which has several stages. The walk dramatize this organization out of chaos (not forgetting it relates to nature and culture). The progress and regress of fractal stages. These become a gateway for cars, bikers and hikers, and those who sit by the fence and contemplate each side.


Kaimes Hill Basalt Columns & Crystal Fragments – Diverse Cosmic Artforms Close to the site is the famous Kaimes Hill. It reveals the slow and fast cooling of basalt, in large and small sections, a palisade of prehistoric fortified architecture to protect thirty houses, 2000BC. It later became a quarry. Geological history and erosion have created this diverse Art of Cosmic-Nature. Evident also are the different geometric fragments and oddities of self-organizing systems pushed far from equilibrium by heat – sharp blades of basalt. Should one reveal this diversity of form? Recently, fragments have been sculpted and re-laid in dry stone courses to form little shelters for sitting (below) – an echo of the naturally formed seats in prehistory, and the Roman fort. Spectacular views of the Firth of Fourth.


Hill Fort – circa 77AD – a Roman defence system of chaotic basalt crystals derives from prehistory

Angular aggression, war, spears at the ready. In prehistory defensive barriers intimidated the enemy by forming chaotic routes of attack, breaking up the invading forces into individuals. Chaos was used as an organising principle, and image of defence. In the First World War it became the ordered Chevaux de Frise, the Horses of Frise, to fill in the ranks of soldiers. Was this nature mimesis wrong – too much order out of chaos? How to depict human progress and regress, the right ratio, the contradictions? For a surprising attitude towards Horses of Friez such horror, read Guillaume Apollinaire’s WWI poem, Chevaux de Frise.


During the white and nocturnal November While trees shredded by aillery Aging under the snow And scarcely seemed frize horses Surrounded by waves of iron wire My heart was reborn like a tree in spring A fruit tree on which flourish The flowers of love During the white and nocturnal November

Fingal’s Cave (Mendelssohn) & Giant’s Causeway

Heat underneath the earth’s crust forces up the mantle and lava of basalt. If it cools fast and shrinks it forms very small columns. If slowly the columns can be long, four metres and more. The structures crack predominately along a hexagonal geometry but in a fairly chaotic network with polygons of three to twelve sides or more. Nature’s Architecture is caused by heat, the internal chemistry or atomic structure, and cooling at various speeds. Slow=Big vertical, fast=small vertical fracturing. The resultant cellular network is seen as order out of chaos, but at several organisational levels as more heat is applied and the architecture becomes more complex. That is, if frozen at the right moment and speed. We name these different levels with metaphors: Columns, Hexagons, Organ Pipes, Giant’s Causeway, Fingal’s Cave. Higher levels of organization are seen as progress, less complex as primitive. Drama and direction are read into cosmic evolution.


“Architecture – it’s Natural Model” 1838

No wonder architects followed Nature as the Supreme Artist. Or is Nature the wrong word? Gandy’s primitive scene shows orangutan-man and woman as the social unit living in their primitive hut of thatch. Models of architectural and cultural evolution can be seen, Fingal’s Cave, and basalt columns serving as seats. In the far background Noah’s Ark settles after the Flood, in the foreground is a natural model for Egyptian architecture, the Palm tree of geometry and beauty. All the basic styles, Gandy hoped, emerged from Nature’s forms. But,


knowing what we do about organizational levels, should we not say the Cosmos is the first artist, Nature the second, Culture the third? After all, that is the order in which they emerged.

Organization out of chaos – Cosmos as the first artist When heat is continually added to a system it self-organises at many new levels forming patterns. Negative-entropy. With basalt crystals these cells create a random network of different size and shape depending on the composition of the magma, the constraints of space and the heat. This emergence of ever-greater complexity mirrors the evolution of life from inanimate matter and why we often experience dead things as having ‘a life of their own.’ Well, they do, and thus we are natural-born animists. Even more, it parallels the emergence of consciousness, and then culture, from life! Thus the basalt crystal (and the similar Bénard cells, above) become excellent symbols of the self-organising universe, and its diverse beauties. It’s positive arrow of time. And thus we can make a contemporary art of A Stone’s Progress out of the local basalt crystals – from randomness to organisation.

A Progress in four movements To create a dramatic progress of increasing organization tempered by regressions, a symphonic structure of themes and variations builds up in each of the four movements. Some contrapuntal themes recur, the cuboids versus shards, each normal to basalt outcrops, and these are dramatized by sun and shadow. Human and zoomorphic figures are also normal in rock outcrops. These are important transition points, entries and exits, and some will be sculpted. Thus each of the four movements will be related as in a symphony of transformed themes, pushing and pulling forwards, leaning towards a crescendo. Stewart McKenna’s insight that the fallen shards and rip-rap lock in the cosmic sculpture very strongly is what I would call The McKenna Method, new to fast rock arranging – here also dependent on the donated rip-rap.



On the linear earth berm, the 240-metre progress starts at the far right, near chaos, a primitively ordered form of randomness. Here mixed shards are placed in a protective layout, like aggressive tank traps today, or a Chevaux de Frise in prehistory (see above). Chaos Defense. The brown basalt, which had fallen from a heroic outcrop one mile away (the Kaimes site, shown on the cover) spills down the moundette. This tiny hillock is the first stage of a gateway sequence seen fleetingly from bicycles, sports cars, buses and trains, a racetrack of noise. Streamlines of electricity zoom along overhead, pylons punctuate the skyline. It’s Marinetti’s Futurist utopia of industrial civilization, predicted in 1909 when he demanded that a racing car replace the Victory of Samothrace, the beauty of noisy speed crush dead classicism forever. Indeed, how can mere sculpture stand up to such a noisescape, how can a garden-walk be placed between a motorway and the mainline from Glasgow to Edinburgh? A slice of paradise put between two hells?

With difficulty. A spikey melange of discordant boulders is here set against a security fence glistening like silver jewellery. For those who go slow a subtle order emerges, striking geometries that show an extraordinary truth. The cosmos is the first artist that self-organizes dead nature into fractal patterns, an architecture of shadows. Basalt crystals are locked in by basalt rip-rap of tiny size. Not classical geometry, it’s the self-similarity and scaling of fractals. Soon grass paths will offset the black angularities, growing curves set off the bones of the earth.

The first stage sets up the gateway sequence from chaos to increasingly complex organisation, but it is progress with continual regressions, always a delicate balance of order out of chaos. Not continual progress, but one refreshed by creative disorder tempered by the organization inherent in the emergent geometry of basalt.


2. CLIFFS OF CUBOIDS The second stage of the walk along the traffic corridor is built from chunky basalt of squarish shape. Brutalist cosmic art. Four-sided fractures or exact cubes are rare, but one can find many nestled into each other at the Giant’s Causeway, above, and morphing into five-sided and hexagonal shapes. Stepping stones, the close-packing of cubes, are the result of molten lava that roils its way to the surface and cools at just the right rate – too fast and it becomes a misshapen lump, too slow an elongated lump. Just right it becomes the architecture depicted by J. M. Gandy (above). The first design models shows the basic idea of contrasting the shards of chaos with the cuboids, with the latter forming orders of seats and steps, and an s-curve walk between them. But the available basalt was at a larger scale than the model shows, and placed onto a very tight linear site the result is more compressed, with just a few packed cubes. The consequence is high contrast, violent juxtaposition, a Beethovian smashup marked by a vertical rock that has a marvellous red flare coming out of its left side.

This high-flyer, as does other culminating stones, has a horizontal seat in front cantilevered towards the walk, a place of rest in a pool of green. Note the shimmering security fence that rises and falls like the white walls of a Chinese garden, the perfect foil for the play of shadows.

The entrance rock to the left has a bored hole for blasting, the eye of a horse- head to left that will be set-off against a zoomorphic horse to the right, accidental animism enhanced, call them Apollinaire’s horses. 8

3. SHARD FLARE KEYSTONE The third cluster is a recapitulation of the first, Chaos Defence, with a focus on angular shards jutting up into space. But here they are more ordered and rhythmical. Thus, the model below shows two regular flares or fans of stone, one on the right moundette of chaos, and a larger one culminating in a high-flyer (marked as 3) that dominates the seat and platform. As this, the largest four-meter rock, was being lowered into place it suddenly sheared apart creating two related shards, and a dramatically tight passage between them.

This spectacular failure allows one to see the cosmos as action artist, and inspect the cooling planes of fracture. The flat white evidence is left behind, to either side of the split. White faults. Could they be watermarks of salt that seeped in along the seam, leading to collapse? Art detectives will note the usual black undulations, set against the red oxide surface. Weather patterns further accentuate the shadow-lines, like wrinkles on an old man’s face and signs of experience. Yet, it is good to remind ourselves at this point that nothing is alive here, it is not nature as artist but the universe itself, sculpting away, having to wait billions of years before being discovered by accident, and appreciated. Van Gogh before his time, before nature and culture as artist. As usual the s-path bisects the rock clusters. Flutes of basalt columns are a recollection of Fingal’s Cave, the image of primeval Scotland as familiar as Arthur’s Seat and other rocks march around the cliffs in lock-step. This whole ancient volcanic area, over 100 square miles, has such staccato-patterns waiting to be heard. But the columns are impossible to pull from the cliffs – and anyway, one would not want to do so. Hence we could not find enough lying on the ground to make an equivalent set of organ pipes. So here the small shards flare out like a fan, and then come together from either side to meet in a keystone, that locks them in very tight. An upside-down keystone in a non-arch, and cosmic gravity working as the key to the lock.



A Stone’s Progress culminates in a synthesis of themes mounting up an inclined moundette ending in a couple of four-meter rocks. A couple nod to each other. The musical organization is most complex with its flaring shards and keystone meeting the visitor first, followed by the theme of couples, and stacked figures leaning into each other like dependent friends.

It’s a cataclysm of electricity, suburbia, trains and arcadia, passing by each other swiftly. Contradictions, opportunities. Thoughts short-circuit, feelings expand. An odd truth. The linear city of the Soviets in the 1920s was an ideal based on transport as the major capitalist force, but nobody predicted leftover space as a primary strategy. Also discovered in the urban underpass. The model makes clear the importance of the culminating sweep to the twins. They and their seats face across a platform to another giant. A race of ugly-beautiful cuboids nod and lean in mutual support.

Powerlines, a shimmer-fence, streamlines and overhead clouds. Two small growing trees are embraced by the basalt figures – soon they will tower up shade.


COMPLETING THE PROJECT To finish A Stone’ Progress several things should be done. The structural stability of stones checked again and reinforced where needed. The artwork tuned so it communicates with the public and is enjoyable as an outdoor installation near high-speed traffic. Other things outstanding include – parking, access and pathways to be constructed; signage and pleasant places to picnic protected by boulder. Low maintenance means in the long term high durability, enjoyment and safety. Sculpting the entrance figures on the outside of the basalt columns. A few basalt columns are figural in nature and we contemplate enhancing the stone on the outside entrance to each of the four groups. An example in this photo-sketch are the outside faces of the two red horses, on installation 2, to be carved in an abstract way, and the right hand one drilled to correspond with left.

Pathway seat and rock points, with seat signs in Plaswood On the berm walk, that curves slightly in plan, there should be three seat areas protected from the road by large basalt boulders. Long-lasting white Plaswood seats, with black signs and artwork, should serve as explanations, diagram and direction, meaning and method. They could be a place for resting and picnic, with discrete rubbish bins adjacent. Perhaps one seat area for the entire walk could be placed before the first installation. Here is one example for the project ?What is Life? at the Dublin Botanic Garden, 2013, showing “frame shift in RNA” that changes code of DNA. Plaswood is easy to rout black on white, provides a warm seat, and it lasts in the rain, sun and the freeze.

Top soil, grass seeding and small areas needing turf; shrubs and trees To make this linear garden more protected and attractive several obvious improvements could be made. They, as well as the second point above, would need a JCB, dumper, and several people to complete. Each of the four moundettes will have grass at various points, with first the top soil covering some of the black rip-rap; other places will expose this locking material reflecting the rocks. The question of high-use and strimming should be addressed, since this will determine what is grass and what rip-rap, type one. The work could commence in July, after settlement, and testing of basalt columns for H&S.



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