Ilana Halperin, Sakurajima (October 31st, 2019) I, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Patricia Fleming, Glasgow.
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Ilana Halperin’s practice of intertwining intimate geological narratives with human histories and lived experience is reflected in this body of work that combines drawing, photography and sculpture. Through exploring geologic timelines, both ancient and newly formed, Halperin uncovers deep and personal connections between people and the places they inhabit. As Halperin has expressed, “rocks are really the first immigrants”, and as an immigrant herself, a New Yorker who now lives and works between Glasgow and the Isle of Bute, Halperin views her own movements as a fleeting, yet significant continuation of a much older migratory tradition. In turn Halperin’s work exists as an evolving embodiment of geologic and human migration.
Drawing and painting are constant studio-based occupations for Halperin. In a new watercolour series ‘My Conglomerate Family’ each rock is a portrait of either herself or a loved one. The series she describes, “each rock is a stand in for someone that is part of my family by choice. When I made it - before the pandemic, I had been imagining and trying to conjure more expansive ways of thinking about my own family, from very deep time family lines drawn in the calcium carbonate of our teeth and bones, to more immediate alternative families based not only on blood, but on how we choose each other, how we love each other, who and how we support one another. Conglomerates held together by feeling.”
Halperin often uses 35mm and 120mm film to capture the process of making and to record fieldwork in remote geologic locations. The new photographic works ‘Sakurajima (October 31st, 2019) I-V’ were taken at Sakurajima Volcano on the Japanese island of Kyushu, during fieldwork, not far from where volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft were killed during a pyroclastic eruption of Mount Unzen in 1991. This series of photographs acknowledges the myriad ways in which the pioneering couple have continually inspired the artist, who has been following in their volcanic footsteps for over 20 years.
In ‘Excerpts from the Library’, a collection of 800 million year old layered mineral ‘books’ of mica, sourced in a legendary tourmaline mine in New England and in Inverness-shire, serve both as a series of sculptural trace fossils, and as a record of the artist’s journey back and forth across the Atlantic. Halperin’s sculptures are experimental in nature, often mirroring earth processes through their formation. As such, the outcome is never certain.
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Ilana Halperin, Excerpts from the Library, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Patricia Fleming, Glasgow.
Ilana Halperin, My conglomerate family, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Patricia Fleming, Glasgow.
MY CONGLOMERATE FAMILY
- A personal reflection by the artist
"A conglomerate is a sedimentary rock composed of many different kinds of rocks naturally bound together. A family, just like a rock, can be composed of many parts.
I’ve always thought and felt that in death and raw catastrophe there is no place for metaphor. A small volcanic eruption like the nightly displays of lava which appear as the sun sets on the island of Stromboli are often likened to a coffee percolator, as the eruptions are so harmless and predictable. It is known as the ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ for its daily beacon of molten red, but when Mount Pele erupted in 1903, within minutes 28,000 people died in the city of Saint Pierre on the island of Martinique. In this, what language is useful - only incomprehensible grief, memorials after the catastrophe, and if appropriate, reflection on the reason for mass death, in that case - namely that though the volcano was increasingly violent and erratic in the days leading up to the eruption, local politicians refused to let people evacuate from the island due to upcoming elections they hoped to win. There were only three survivors of the eruption in Saint Pierre - a cobbler, a convict saved by the thick walls of his cell and a young girl.
Around the world, the potentially catastrophic eruption of the virus had been rumbling and worse for months. Wuhan, Lombardy, Tokyo Bay, Washington State, off the coast of California, New Rochelle, London. Countless simultaneous tremors signalling a violent eruption was coming closer. With one ear to the ground, listening to this seismic horror unfold, I feel rage. Adrenaline courses through my veins, it pumps through my body like liquid fire. One government after another ignoring the signs, ignoring the tsunami of death that has travelled incrementally across the surface of the earth as easily as day shifting to night. As easily as flying across the Atlantic into summer daybreak, where the sunrise extends for hours. But this is not beautiful like a sunrise. This is monstrous, needless, mass death.
I read a very helpful article that said during the first few weeks of a lock down, it is ok if your mind doesn’t work, if you can’t think, can’t be productive, can only focus on very simple tasks. This is because the world has changed, that everything is now different. It explains during this period of adjustment, you may find you can only focus on doing everything you can to secure the safety and health of everyone you love, and that once their safety and security are in place, that you will be surprised to find that your mind slowly comes back to life, becomes more capable of complex thoughts and responses.
I keep trying to find the right words. How to articulate something so horrific. A few doors down, a paediatric doctor is sick at home; in a retirement home up the block people are dying; my brother in law is a carer and has been told he can’t bring masks to work because they are not ‘approved’ but no other masks are provided. Across the ocean, my younger sister is indefinitely locked in her apartment in Brooklyn; near my elementary school on the field in Central Park where we had our annual Field Day, there is now a field hospital run by homophobic zealots; and my mother in Maine who is totally dependent on a small team of carers, is in the middle of a deep health crisis, very far from me.
Is that why in my mind I keep ending up in the corner of the living room where I grew up, sitting on the floor by my parents record player. Dappled light filters through the window, vivid green plants with long boughs and shoots fill the window sill, planters crowd the floor. I am playing my parents records - Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell. But the record that is on is scratched, it keeps jumping back to the same place - not safe, not safe, not safe...
One piece for the show ‘Excerpts from the Library’ is called My Conglomerate Family. It is a watercolour of a collection of rocks, each rock is a stand in for someone that is part of my family by choice. Then, when I made it - before the pandemic, I had been imagining and trying to conjure more expansive ways of thinking about my own family, from very deep time family lines drawn in the calcium carbonate of our teeth and bones, to more immediate alternative families based not only on blood, but on how we choose each other, how we love each other, who and how we support one another. Conglomerates held together by feeling. And now, in some ways, we are part of an international conglomerate, intrinsically bound together by the virus. Invisible glue, holding everyone together in a shared catastrophe.
I hope we can be bound together by our urgent sense of humanity."
Ilana Halperin, 2020
Ilana Halperin working at the Meizengama Studio in Yamaguchi, Japan during The Rock Cycle, Autumn 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Patricia Fleming, Glasgow 2020. Photo credit: Alison Stirling