STONE: A practice-led study of the legacy and future of stone in art.

Lead Research Organisation: Landscape Institute
Department Name: School of Art


Stone is a fundamental material upon which human culture has evolved over millennia. Yet stone as a creative material has become image, surface and a tool of 'spin'. A senior group of artist-researchers consider the heritage of stone, and question whether this shift from structure to meaning has to be the inevitable course of stone into the future.

We propose to research relevant stone craft skills - a rich repository that, like the material itself, has accumulated over a long timescale. Many traditional stone working techniques and attitudes are in danger of being lost. Is the material of stone destined to become culturally peripheral, or can it be revisited and invigorated in new ways? Our focus is to examine stone's potential for future use in our environment. To do this effectively, we will look back and forward, to energise the project in two directions. This will involve archiving traditional skills, and so create an accessible legacy for future generations.

The project will be led by three experienced artist-researchers, supported by a research assistant and PhD student. Over a three-year period, our research proposal will be rolled out in phases, each exploring related and interconnected facets of stone carving.

Firstly, we will visit quarries and stone-working locations world-wide to identify a broad range of practice and lineage, and so capture some of the varying attitudes toward stone in cultures such as Japan, China, South America, South Africa Italy and India. (From the Mahabalipurum craft-workers of India whose approach to carving stone is essentially abrasive, to Japan where there is a tradition of using the chisel to explode individual crystals in granite.) Informed by the research process, the researchers will invite 10 artists of cultural diversity with varied stone working approaches, to engage in the research project. In all cases, they will be artists with acknowledged reputations and expert stone technique. The artists will be invited at the end of the first year to study our accumulated research material, and consider new ways of how stone might be reinvigorated in art and the contemporary environment. Following this event the artists will return to reflect on the research and develop a stone artwork proposal.

Secondly, Edinburgh College of Art will host a month long event entitled 'The Big Carve', within the environs of eca. The selected artists will come to Edinburgh to make 10 new innovative artworks / thereby creating a new research community, through the amplification of each other's energies and enthusiasms. 'The Big Carve' will inject energy into contemporary stonework made by relevant, articulate artists.

We are not aware of precedents elsewhere in the world that focus on stone in this particular way and address themselves to artists at this level. (Although minor carving symposia exist worldwide, they tend to cater toward younger or more traditional artists, who work for free and leave their stones behind.)

The quarried stone used will be sourced from the UK and Ireland and that broadly incorporates all major stone categories (i.e. slates, granites, sandstones, limestone). Synchronising the event with the Edinburgh International Festival is considered an additional catalyst in recruiting high quality artist participation and knowledge transfer to an international audience. As a focus and counterpoint for the material-driven activities central to 'The Big Carve', the event will also be underpinned by a series of 10 cross-disciplinary lectures and discussions, led by philosophers, scientists, anthropologists, historians, palaeontologists, archaeologists, and poets.

Lastly, the research project will culminate in a series of outputs that will address the research questions, aims & objectives, through travelling exhibitions; an illustrated publication; documentary films; a permanent STONE archive; a website; and a successful PhD award.


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