Adrift in a drift in time (STE 1O/13)

Gary Haven Smith‘s beautiful granite sculptures, and many of the powerful works in the Ogunquit Museum‘s outdoor sculpture garden, made Pierre Jardin want to DO something with stones.  Below the museum grounds, he found a small pebble beach in a cove that featured a fantastic rock arch formation (below house), a suitable setting for a site-specific composition.

ogunquit log and stone formationA long driftwood log, distinctly colored and textured, provided a handy base for a rock-work. The speckled rhyolite cobbles that provided splotches of red and brown among the predominant grey and black in the shingle immediately stood out as suggestive complements for the wood.

Log stonesJardin spent an hour gathering similar-sized stones and arranging them along the log, and then photographed them, thinking of reproducing–rather, iterating–the work in a collage.

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Collecting rocks and collating stones is a contemplative pastime that sets Pierre Jardin adrift in time in different senses: in quotidian time, he is off the clock, unaware of minutes and hours passing; in conceptual time, he imaginatively traverses the timescales of the materials he is working with.  What is the history of the tree whose trunk he is working with?  How old was it when it fell into the sea?  What was the driftwood’s itinerary–did it drift about for days, weeks, months, before beaching here?

The temporal drift of the rhyolite cobbles unfolds on a much more nebulous geologic timescale.  Clarence Ellis’s marvelous The Pebbles on the Beach (1954) remains unsurpassed in its account of the life of a pebble:

“Firstly we must always bear in mind that a pebble is a transient thing. It is in the half-way stage of a long existence.  Beginning as a fragment of rock, which itself is millions of years old, it ends its existence by being pounded into minute particles or grains.  Similarly, the shingle beach which consists entirely of pebbles, is also transient, for it is constantly being moved along the shore by the action of waves….

Secondly, the shingle beach is fairly shallow. It lies on a base far more permanent than itself, usually a shelf or platform of solid rock.  The sea cut out, or wore down, this platform when, long ago, it eroded the land on which the beach now stands: the resulting debris then formed the bed of shingle. The sea continued its attack upon the retreating cliffs, from which additional layers of debris came and still ceaselessly come.”

Through mindful attention to the stones and wood, Pierre Jardin is not only adrift in time–he likes to think of this kind of contemplative practice as a drift in time, a phrase he coined in the spirit of Madeleine L’Engle‘s Wrinkle in Time–a drift in time would be a meta-physical breach, a temporal opening, in which different timescales can be accessed and occupied.  In this particular time-drift, Pierre’s fleeting encounter with a driftwood log and rhyolite pebbles became a slow time exercise, a focused dilation of duration, through which he could drift with the log’s drifting journey, and linger with the pebbles in their “transient” journey in deep time, as they erode from stone into sand.

Of course, a drift in time only lasts for as long as one is able to sustain it.  In this case, Pierre Jardin was fortunate to have finished photographing the work just as a museum docent called down to him, “I am glad I found you–I am about to lock the gate to the parking lot–you have to come up immediately!”


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