a few things I’ve seen and me seeing the few things I’ve seen … since getting back from India
still in residual shock … but steady … moving towards …
In part 1 of Three Stones from Three Cities, I discover a series of mysterious broken stones
in Mauerpark, Berlin, Germany, as my friend, Helena, and I walk around one Sunday afternoon,
looking for a place to stand
to watch Karaoke in the
The next afternoon I was compelled to go back to Mauerpark with my camera because of the mystery of these puzzling breaks, the Unexpected Field of Trauma as I call it. The Karaoke singers and gawkers are gone. The park, once a strip of No-Man’s Land when the Berlin Wall was functional, is nearly empty. I walk the full length of the dead-straight road, which is about the length of two American Football fields and runs the full length of the park, parallel to where the outer and inner walls of the Berlin Wall used to run. The eastern facing, or outer wall is to my right as I walk North up the road, and a section of this wall is still standing.
After my inspection along the whole road, I see that the only area of trauma, these strange fractures in the cobblestones that I described in the previous post, is where I initially saw them – by the Karaoke amphitheater.
“Hmm … interesting.”
I kneel down to look closer: yes, the breaks are mostly on top, fractures on the surface and some of the stones are worse than others and the breaks sort of go around the stone, and then there is the softening of the sharp edges, similar to how the sharp edges of ice, as with an ice cube, soften as it melts.
The pattern of breaking has no radiation out from a center, as what would occur with an explosion or a downward blow of a hammer. Nor are they directional, like let’s say if a force ran over the top of the stones in one direction, breaking the top layers, like I fantasize would happen with a tank tread or some piece of machinery capable of directing a powerful, continuous force. And, significantly, the stones aren’t disturbed within their housing. However these breaks happened, they didn’t happen in a way that disturbed the position of the stone. My guess is that this happened a while ago, i.e … at least not last week … debris has filled the cracks. But, how? Still not convinced it is the natural cycle of freeze and thaw, I snap a few quick photos. It begins to rain. I run for cover and then leave the park. I take shelter at Friendly Society, a Boutique–Coffee–Bar–Gallery, that is a few blocks away. I talked with Gregor, one of the co-founders, as I sit out the downpour. (If you’re by Mauerpark, take a special detour to have some great coffee and to see their line of clothes you won’t find anywhere else!)
I go home and I forget about the Unexpected Field of Trauma at Mauerpark. I have other pressing issues. Two days later, I am looking through the 5000 plus images I took while in India, because the real reason I have cloistered myself in a Berlin sublet for the summer is to come down from these India Travels, clarify my own questions and develop what next for Cairns – Shards – Pieces.
A significant aspect of India – and it is rather extreme in Varanasi – is that everywhere you go, to one degree or another, people are living or lounging outdoors, essentially camping, and that includes all the concomitant activities such as building fires of all sizes and for various reasons. It is like there is a fluid, but perpetual, state of camping all around you. With few exceptions, even I could have built a fire just about anywhere and just hung out, with impunity. In one of my images of the ghats, I notice someone had built a campfire right next to the ghat steps and, to my surprise, the stone was fractured to the point of not really being a functional step anymore: the heat had burst and broken the stone,
making them … not steps … rather a slope … and … Wow … That’s it …
“How, Now, Watson: make the connection…”
Yes. Fire breaks stone in this way …
… I know, because I’ve done it with an acetylene torch early in my art career; I also have made plenty of campfires that have heated stones and fractured them. Yes, that’s it: a campfire! People built campfires along that cobblestone road in Mauerpark. Fire is the answer. Fire breaks stone, and that’s what caused the Unexpected Field of Trauma. Has to be! It’s my inference to the best explanation, at any rate; and seems to conform to Ockham’s razor.
The wall comes down. No-man’s Land is no longer No-man’s Land. People reclaim the space and turn it into a gathering place. The park is built, the amphitheater is built, the cobblestone road is built and the strip of land is reinforced as a natural gathering point. People hang out here, late into the night; at this time, Berlin must not have subtle, oppressive cultural powers executing rules of arbitrary propriety and people make campfires for their fellowship around the amphitheater and on the cobblestones. That has to be it. I’m sure of it. I go back that afternoon to confirm, but will spare you the analysis.
So, this Unexpected Field of Trauma was created by campfires build on top of the stone road. Although all three are important, neither material nor history nor action links the Unexpected Field of Trauma at Mauer Park to my cobblestone in New York City; but rather, it is a question: how did it get that way? And, that is the connection.
The real reason why I write this post is that there is another undercurrent to this inquiry. That is I had another notable, albeit at present unexplainable, experience with another stone while in India. It is an approximately 6 x 2 foot paving stone at one of the Ghats that I discovered during my first walk, ever, along the ghats, during my first day, ever, in Varanasi. It, like all the stones that comprise the ghats, is subject to the yearly rise and fall of the Ganga where it is covered by Himalayan sediment and then, when the river recedes, the people clean it off by spraying river water at it. For some reason this stone got singled out and I haven’t been able to write about it, I haven’t been able to process it, I haven’t been able to make sense of it – I still can’t – I don’t know what questions to ask! India was too overwhelming, and there are too many factors beyond my own empirical and anecdotal evidence collecting that makes me truly uncomfortable because I just don’t know enough about them. Some of these factors revolve around the socio-economic forces at play in India as well as the country’s conquered and colonialist history. All of this has inhibited any rapid-fire posting (of the sort social media is biased for) during my travels and is partially what I am referring to when I say that I don’t know what I am looking at.
I won’t try to explain the Indian paving stone; except to say that this discovery is a cross between the punctuation I experienced with the New York cobblestone and the puzzlement of the Unexpected Field of Trauma at Mauerpark, times the first 7 primes in the base 12 number system and a Goat in a sweater (or something). That’s it. That is all I can say. It is at Rana Mahal Ghat, and here it is:
I write this post to you today as a way to ease my way back into writing about and telling you about
my India experiences and the things that caught
my curiosity …
I spy this fracture pattern in a cobblestone one Sunday afternoon, as I walk through Mauerpark
in Berlin, Germany, with a friend, Helena, who is visiting from The States.
Mauerpark is more than two American Football Fields long and almost the width of a Football field wide. It is oriented North-South and was once part of No-Man’s land between the inner and outer rings of the Berlin Wall. The Western edge of the park is where the Wall that greeted West Berliners stood and now a simple wire fence demarks the boundary between Mauerpark and the Flea Market, which is bustling every weekend. The Eastern edge of the park is up on a slope, where the outer ring of the Wall once stood and there is a section still standing as a reminder. At the base of this slope, there is a cobblestone road that runs straight through the full length of the park. Roughly at the midpoint of this road, in the center of the park, embedding in the hillside, is an amphitheater with a circular, stone stage and the cobblestone road is tangential to it.
This Sunday, Helena and I are standing on the Cobblestone road at the circular stage of this outdoor arena, which is packed with people waiting for outdoor karaoke to start.
We look up at the tiered seating on the hillside and decide to make our way up the slope to the top, find a place to stand and have a look down onto the stage. We are being jostled by the throngs of people, who are walking, standing about, exiting and entering the arena area, waiting for the singing to start or cruising and looking for some other excitement in the busy park, carrying bottles of Berliner Pils, bouncing basket balls, kicking soccer balls, pushing strollers, walking bikes. This is both a Berliner and Tourist hotspot – it’s the same deal every Sunday with the Flea Market packed and the promise of both awesomely embarrassingly hilarity and bust’n live beats of Top Forty swing-a-ding-ding from the Karaoke singers who do their best (or worst) in front of about 500 people: we are hoping to see people embarrass themselves with a Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus song or, perhaps, we’ll get some old-timer East Berliner giving his best Frank Sinatra imitation – in German! We move along this road out of the congested area, and I glance down to give the cobblestones a cursory look.
See: as a sculptor, I work with stone, I’ve done work with found cobblestones, and I had a notable experience with a New York City cobblestone that I relate in this blog, as it was a stone I had walked over for years, but for whatever reason I had never noticed it until that day and, given the different context, it triggered an avalanche of thinking about important historical moments in the field of Science and pointed towards a relevance of stone for our present day and reminded me why I work with this material, in the first place. Here is a picture of it:
As I prepared for my trip to India to find Indian granite to work with, I made both mental and physical lists of the kinds of work, the kernels of ideas really, that I’d mull over while in India, and one of my ideas had to do with comparing, contrasting and relating this New York Cobblestone with other stones I find else where. I didn’t know how I’d execute this – I suspected through drawing – but it was part of the mental database I would bring with me to India … more about this in part 2.
As I glance down at the cobblestones along this pedestrian roadway in Mauerpark amidst the sea of people, I am conscious of the fact that I may be artificially trying to find significance in another urban stone by making some obtuse or forced connection, but then something irregular jumps out: a cobblestone that has a bizarre – decidedly ‘un-urban’ – fracture pattern. I can’t help it and I am hooked. Here’s an expanded image of that first stone I saw:
This triggers three simultaneous, yet distinct mental activities, like the clap of thunder accompanied with a flash of lighting and then the smell of Ozone – I wonder; I scan; and a cascade of thought pours in. I see the initial stone:
1. I wonder: “What … is … this? This is unexpected.?!.?!.”
2. I scan and see another and then another and another with a similar odd breaking pattern: a small grouping here, a larger grouping there. These are common cobblestones, so the strangeness isn’t the material but the breaking. There are deeper fissures and lesser fissures; there are voids of missing stone; there are places of more and less stone damage, scattered in an indiscernible pattern around the area we walk. The damage is subtle, most would not even give it a second glance, but the pattern doesn’t fit. Something is off, as the lesser breaks stay shallow along the upper layers of the stone, not deep and penetrating like you would find if erosion and changes in temperature and weather were the cause.
3. The cascade of thought happens quicker than one can chug a full glass of water and include:
“But, not one cobblestone sticks out: this doesn’t fit … my symbolic expectation.”
“Ignore. That is not important … Breaking … Looking …”
“But, this is not an identification with an individual cobblestone
or a decisive event of recognition and insight. What is it you are looking at and why is it significant?”
“Wait: your expectations can blind you … hold on … Processing …”
“Ok. This is outside your mold; deal with it. Discard your present system of analysis and observe. Take in more than you usually do, more than you are comfortable with. Wake up. Pay attention!”
“This break in the stone is not normal, unexpected. Period. Looking …”
“A mystery … Cogitating … How did they get this way? Not by any means you’re familiar with.”
“But no one else notices.”
“That’s right, no one else cares, but that doesn’t mean there is no mystery … and they are no concern of yours, anyway … Thinking …”
“Trauma here; Trauma there. Geez, about a dozen cobblestones in this one clump, pummeled, broken, abused. What force did this?”
“The cracks are too strange to be the consequence of the freeze and thaw cycle … You highly doubt it was the freeze and thaw cycle … You’d be surprise if it was the freeze thaw cycle – erosion, too slow … these leave distinctive breaks and you can see how it follows the weakness of the stone. There are patterns to … usually that follow a natural, weak contour of the stone and … Freeze-Thaw? Can’t be?”
“This is explosive. What?”
“Dubious. What? … Move … these are fast breaks. How fast? Simultaneous?”
“That’s important …”
“How long has this road been here? Long – the road has a wear and polished surface of vehicle use. But these could be recycled stones from another road.”
“Possibilities … all and any …”
“First: historical context …
“A grenade during the battle of Berlin, a shock wave from an allied bomb, a tank tread from the time Mauerpark was part of No-man’s land?
“Road most likely not old enough … What does that even mean?
“Could this have been deliberate? A sledgehammer? A carpenter’s hammer? More than a boot strike. But in such random places? And the characteristic that is so strange is that these cracks don’t go deep into the stone, but in and then along the surface… then there is a strange mellowing of the newly exposed surface. What is that?”
“Large machinery parked here for a construction job close by, but unrelated to geopolitical conflicts?”
“For these things to be confirmed, you need to know the history of this park: was it always a park? Like before WWII? When did it become a park? Were there homes in the field to the west, and were they then destroyed by bombing or to clear the area between the outer and inner Berlin Wall? Was it always a field, a park? When, What, Why … This Road?
“A force from below: What is underneath us? Different forces? Different times? Tectonic – naw, no way, not even close. Breaks mostly on top …”
“What other force could have broken these stones?”
“Create a mental map. Create a mental marker. Remember this: we are walking through an unexpected field of trauma. An individual cobblestone is not the issue. Something occurred to these stones, but What? I have never seen this kind of pattern before … and a municipal force could have fixed them … why not? … why?”
“How, now, Watson! The game is afoot!”
This transderivational search goes on for a bit longer. It was a quick glance and rapid-fire thought. We move and are jostled among all the people and are now walking up the slope. Helene has no idea what I am thinking as I didn’t break stride with her. We were talking about her painting and I decided not to overtake our conversation with my unformed thoughts; besides, we already have plenty to talk about. We move up the slope to the top of the arena.
I knew my initial thoughts were accurate only in the sense that there was a mystery. I didn’t really think those military reasons where possible, but, given the closeness of the history, it was easy to go there.
I remember reading somewhere: “Everything is the way it is because it got that way,” and those stones were not broken by magic.
I needed more information … or did I?
Then, I drop it. However …
Over the next 24 hours, I kept finding this mental marker for the Unexpected Field of Trauma
peering out from my much higher priority thoughts and daily tasks …
until the next afternoon, and I could not let this lie.
I go back to Mauerpark
with my camera.
To be continued … (part II here)
I didn’t know him well, but hung with him just long enough so when he came up to me at a SAIC alumni function at the Sculpture Center this past February,
I had a vague recollection of his undergraduate paintings that were big and grand
and filled with many unanswered questions
and hard-won struggles.
He told me he recently graduated from SAIC with a MFA in painting and that he had a solo show at McKenzie Fine Art.
When I went to the show, I was impressed with not only how far he had come from his undergraduate days,
but also with how much I related to his quiet, methodical thinking that is evident in his mark making
and in how he handles going from a smaller to a larger scale. I also admired his skill with color,
which is something that is beyond my present ability to produce.
In addition, he has crossed a major threshold that stops many MFA recipients: He has managed to continue making work after graduation
and to have a professional show in New York City.
This, in itself, is a profound accomplishment.
I hope he continues to continue.
THE ARMORY SHOW 1913: MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS. Participants: Marilyn Kushner, Francis Naumann, Gail Stavitsky. Moderator: Robert Storr
Florian Schmidt at Galerie Andreas Huber
Andisheh Avini at Marianne Boesky Gallery
Lawrence Weiner at Lisson Gallery
Thaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin Gallery
Anne Koskinen at Galerie Anhava
Susan Hefuna at Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Cary Leibowitz at Invisible-Exports
Daniel Rozin at bitforms