In celebration of Rock Records, a special issue of SubStance, Pierre Jardin is creating a themed series of installations in The Petriverse.
Jardin loves to ‘play the rock record.’ All work related to the garden is play: collecting rocks at the beach or in the desert, recontextualizing them in the garden, assembling them in compositions, are all guises of “playing rocks.” Compositions are recordings of the rock record; Jardin attempts to “play rocks” for spectators, to make manifest the silent concert of rock groups. He becomes a DJ playing rock records for passersby, making stones POP to the eye and pop-rock for the ear.
Roger Caillois’s mineral collection and writings on stone comprise a rich library of ‘rock records,’ a term used here to mean not only the geologic rock record, but also records of encounters with stone broadly understood. Caillois bequeathed his renowned collection to the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. The collection, featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale, can be seen at the galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie. In his three books on stones, Caillois presents fascinating speculative ruminations on geologic processes and specimens, in the service of a transdisciplinary philosophical project. Caillois espoused a “mystical materialism” that grounded his pursuit of a “diagonal science,” a hermetic reading of the cosmos as composed of hieroglyphic signs, in which “stone… speaks… the most convincing language in the universe.”
Caillois figures prominently in Rock Records, a special issue of the French theory and literature journal SubStance that includes essays in ecophilosophy and speculative geomedia, and a collection of viewing stones presented by leading connoisseurs. The issue features an excerpt from Caillois’s Pierres réfléchies (1975)–the last, and least cited, of his books on stones–published for the first time in English. The print essay is complemented by an online exhibit that presents photos of particular specimens of the mineral collection accompanied by Caillois’s speculations about them from The Writing of Stones (1969).
In Rock Records, Caillois’s stone writings are taken up by ecotheorist Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, who perceptively points out that while Caillois discovers in stones a form of cosmic art–thereby liberating art from an anthropomorphic mooring–he simultaneously depicts rock as an inert medium, a “durable recording device” of universal energies and aesthetics. Paul Prudence, a theorist and practitioner of procedural art, begins by pointing out that Caillois, as a pareidoliac interpreting patterns in stone, figures his speculations in terms of the “internalized database of stored images” available to him at the time. He then offers a “post-digital” treatment of Caillois’s writings, seeing them in terms of how they anticipate and/or are changed by viewing them in relation to algorithmic images (fractals, etc), and concludes that an aesthetics of simulation ultimately opens onto a “cybernetics of geology.” Paul A. Harris finds in Caillois’s characterization of stone contemplation as “mental inebriation” and “spiritual exercise” an analogue for his “stoned thinking” grounded in meditative rock gardening practices.
“Migmatite,” meaning “mixed rock,” is a word coined in 1907 by Jakob Johannes Sederholm, for rocks having both igneous and metamorphic properties. Pierre Jardin stumbled on the term on a plaque for a large sinuous-striped, grey and white boulder named “Bob’s Rock” outside the Grassy Hollow Visitors Center on the marvelous Angeles Crest Highway near Wrightwood, California.
As Evelyn Mervine succinctly explains: “Metamorphic rocks are rocks which deform at very high pressures and temperatures and which may recrystallize but which have not formed through melting. Igneous rocks, on the other hand, are rocks which form by cooling from completely molten material. Migmatites are hybrid rocks: the dark layers (most often composed of biotite and amphibole) experienced metamorphic changes, but did not melt. The light layers (most often granitic in composition; as a reminder, granite consists of the minerals quartz, feldspar, and muscovite), on the other hand, crystallized from partial melts of the precursor rock.”
Pierre Jardin collected pieces of migmatite from an outcropping near Wrightwood. Their heterogeneous composition and pytgmatic foldings make them a natural fit for mixing rocks and wood in compositions Jardin calls “Igneous Ligneous Inosculations” (stones kissing stumps, loosely translated). The undulating folds of the migmatite rock rhyme visually with the sinuous lines of the wood, and the two forms fit neatly, creating nice negative spaces.
One only begins to know a garden by visiting it at different times of year. Alistair Clark, the head gardener and long-time collaborator in Charles Jencks’s great land art projects, told me that he thinks requests to film at Cosmic Speculation should be met with a condition: film the exact same itinerary at all four seasons, because it is a completely different place as light, vegetation, and mood change.
Having seen the garden in the glories of June sunlight and rains, it was a revelation to see it stark in March bareness. Sightlines are clearer, the stand of poplars parallel to the train track stands out, and the landforms in early morning frost and low sun are far more dramatic in their dynamic contours (above). Less lush leafing lets the eye linger over long views, like this beautiful outlook over the DNA Garden with its stunning undulating walls (below).
The Petriverse has been designated a “Geotour de Force” by Golden State GeoTours. The rare honor recognizes particularly powerful lithic locations in California, where geophysical energies and aesthetic splendor combine to attract rockhounds and stone lovers. Canonical sites include Skull Rock in Joshua Tree, Devils Postpile, and Half Dome in Yosemite. “We felt that The Petriverse displays a unique geophilic fervor, in its commitment to creating strangely attractive stone displays and attractively strange rock messages,” GSGT President Jon Mewer stated. A dewy-eyed Pierre Jardin called it “a truly unexpected honor,” acknowledging that his humble suburban rock garden cannot compare with large-scale formations on the club’s list. “While those places are authentic natural wonders, the Petriverse is, naturally, about making you wonder,” Jardin concluded enigmatically.
The Petriverse dressed up for Halloween this year: standing megaliths donned white webwork and became “ghostones ,” which, surrounding a dolphin skull, composed a spooky display, especially at night.
Pierre Jardin considered the covering a poor-man’s mock-up of Christo wrapping trees. The stones took on an ethereal beauty, lightening into slightly uncanny presences, almost afloat.
Pierre wondered how the stones felt in their garb: cheapened? cloistered and cobwebbed? or maybe they were happy being seen as ghosts, their spirits appearing to those passersby who don’t realize that stones are animate matter of the living earth….