Petrified Materiality

Petrified //

1.    to convert into stone or a stony substance through a slow process of mineralization.

2.    to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion:

3.    to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden:

As a primal materiality, stone is a symbol for that which is bluntly real, a synonym for mere thingness, a figure for recalcitrance, even silence. Stone can be invoked as a witness, but most often its testimony is mute, an enduring trigger to memory, a passive reminder of histories, spur to recollected emotion: part of a storied landscape, but neither author nor speaker. 


I am fascinated by the plasticity of the brain and how our perceptions shape the world around us. We project our feelings and experiences onto things, giving them anthropomorphic qualities. Often I wonder whether there is more to this than merely projecting emotions and experiences onto inanimate objects, and that these inanimate objects contain their own vibrations and energy.  A developing area of research – philosophical anthropology – combines the factual evidence from artefacts with psychology based upon development of the structure of the brain. Whilst we uncover clues into how our mind works, its inner workings continue to remain elusive and mysterious. Art can be used as a field of study to demystify the sciences by encouraging contemplation. Art increases connectivity within the brain, allowing links to be created from seemingly disparate areas of research. 


Evolution of the human species contains moments that have been forgotten through the process of time, and liminality in which we transition from one (meta)physical space to another.  We piece together knowledge from the artefacts collected to describe our development as a species. Many of these artefacts are either made of stone or have been recorded in stone. Stone became the basis of my research due to its ability to preserve memories of life and time; recording the progress of the human. Yet, nature is a continuum in which nothing remains the same, even something as seemingly solid as a stone will change given enough time.


I chose to work with clay because it is made up of the same components as stone. I respond to recycled and reclaimed clay and found objects gathered from my explorations around Nova Scotia. The clay embodies local red earth, which is unique to Lantz, Nova Scotia. Clay is plastic and malleable, a metaphor perhaps for our mind and thought processes. Over time the clay dries out and is no longer so impressionable as it becomes difficult to leave a mark on the hardened clay. Dry clay thus imitates the process of stony geological time, preserving time and life in its embrace. The process of working with clay remembers my fingerprints, the traces of which become the memory of the interaction. Clay is generally described as the decay of stone because most clay comes from the erosion of stone (igneous granite). However, it is the hardened clay in the form of shale that contains the petrified remnants of previous life, traces of animal and plant material that lay to rest upon it and were subsequently buried by layers of clay sediment. According to poet Francis Ponge, ‘stone is the only thing in nature that constantly dies’. Yet the continual death of stone records an impression of life.


We surround ourselves with souvenirs of our existence, collecting things that become imbued with our memories. We collect in order to remember and the things we accumulate aid our recollections of past events and experiences. Memory, at once impoverished because we can never remember everything in its entirety, and enriched because every time we remember we enhance the experience, presents itself as a device for measuring the experiences of our life.


The human act of using stone to record our existence demonstrates a desire to be remembered. Use of a hard material slows oblivion, the process of forgetting. Within its stony depths, remnants of past lives and communities are contained, speaking from deep time across vast durations. Sometimes these lives are forgotten, yet just enough evidence remains to piece together a story of life. Lives are transcended when they transform from living flesh to memory in stone in the form of fossils, artefacts such as stone tools, as well as ancient forms of mark making and writing.

1 - 30 November 2019

MMFI Gallery

Marigold Cultural Centre

605 Prince St, TRURO NS

Cohen, J 2015, Stone: An ecology of the inhuman, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolisin.

Ponge, F 1974, The Voice of Things, Herder & Herder, USA.

Stewart, S 1970, On longing: Narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection, Duke University Press, Durham and London.