"What we talk about when we talk about rocks."
Mission Hill Gallery
August 2023, Boston
a Kaeur Studio research-project
"What we talk about when we talk about rocks."
by Hollister & Frickhœffer
curated by HTLAL?
Curation was always one of the key ideas of Kaeur Studio. Our project HTLAL? now uses it as an experimental approach to research.
The show up for view at Mission Hill Gallery was an attempt of curating Hollisters found object collection which is focused but not limited to rocks. Linked to their writing and photography process of documenting the ground while walking, these collected items are connected to autobiographical ideas and references – where was a rock picked up, when was a rock picked up and which rocks are left on the ground.
Experiencing landscapes and especially nature is inextricably linked to experiencing yourself in the space. Being part of wilderness in order to experience it is a negotiation of interference and compromising on perspective. Landscapes always bear memories – personal as well as collective. Besides the question of How to look at landscapes?, this show asks further how to treat those spaces. What are the ethics of collecting, what is the power structure behind taking and displaying something? But also how can we take care and conserve a(ny) collection?
A rock is a document.
Ceci n'est pas une pierre.
The rock is a metaphor.
This work lives on in the future of the expanding collection and archives yet to come.
How to ethically collect a rock
by McCall Hollister
Questions to ask as you decide to pick up a rock by the side of a road:
1. Are there people around? Are you in public? Do you care? (Usually this doesn’t matter,
most people are too busy worrying about themselves to watch you as you deliberate.)
2. What kind of rock is it? Do you already have a rock like it? Does that matter? (Maybe
you want to avoid duplicates, but maybe you only care about one kind of granite.)
3. Could you carry that rock? Is it small enough to fit in a pocket, or do you have a bag large
enough to hold it? Sometimes you already have pockets and bags full of rocks, and it
becomes an issue not of “what if” but of “how many”. It’s much easier to pick up a
second or a third or a fourth rock once you’ve picked up the first, but it’s much harder to
carry all that weight.
4. Is the rock easy to remove? (This is crucial, because digging up a half-buried rock is
more disruptive than a rock sitting on top of concrete, both for the land itself and for any
bystanders watching you dig in the dirt. You don’t want to disturb an insect’s or animal’s
home, or risk getting any more dirt in your pockets than necessary. But sometimes there
are times when the dirt is worth it, and the digging is worth it, because you know you
need that rock.)
And the most challenging question:
5. What are you going to do with this rock? Will you put it in a box, or on a shelf? Will you
dust it? Will you display it? Will you load it in the UHaul the next time you move, or
forget about it under your bed? Will it live in your garden, or weigh down a stack of
papers, or serve as a decorative table centerpiece? Will you put it in your will? Will it be
taken care of?
To collect an object, any object, is to accept responsibility for care of that object. This is the case, or at least should be the case, regardless of the size or scope of a collection.
For example, when a museum decides to acquire an object, it must first pass a rigorous set of questions. Does it support the mission of the museum, for example, and do we know it’s provenance? Storage necessities, financial responsibility, ethical considerations. And so on, sometimes for months, until an object passes the test, and it is granted the privileges of joining a museum collection.
But I’m not a museum, I’m just a person, whose collection lives on a windowsill and piled on the floor next to a mousetrap. Nevertheless I collect in the hundreds, often impulsively, as I stuff rocks in my pockets and bricks in my backpack until my bags become too heavy to carry and my pockets fill with dirt.
I sometimes wonder about the damage I’m doing with this. It’s too tempting to say that I’m only collecting things that nobody wants -- a chipped piece of brick, a piece of cement, a rusty screw, usually off the side of the road, usually in piles of rubble. But that would be ignoring the times I’ve dug up whole cobblestones out of a sidewalk, or pocketed bricks from the pile in front of the local police station, both of which I’ve done numerous times. And what about the more mundane activity, beach collecting, where I sift through sandy rocks and throw back the ones I don’t like into the water?
Causing a disruption, taking something that’s not mine. Finding something so beautiful that I have to have it. Holding something that will outlive me.
And how do you take care of a rock? Something deceptively stagnant, inert? Do you give it a name? A home? Another rock to keep it company?
All I have are questions.
Because what if there comes a time when the collection becomes too heavy, literally? Where will you return it to? All these pieces of parking garage bumpers, chips of beer bottles, and rusted railroad fasteners? All the dozens of river rocks from bodies of water hundreds of miles away?
I’ve reached the point in my collection (over three hundred rocks, and counting) where all the details blur together. Most of the rocks I can’t tell where, or when, I collected them. Inventory (what a good collector does, so I’ve been told) quickly becomes complicated when I can’t fill in the specifics. For a lot of them, I’ve guessed, or straight up lied. Maybe in this way I’ve failed to collect ethically -- after all, the story of where and why an object was chosen is the most interesting part about it.
But I haven’t gotten to the point where the collection is too heavy -- maybe at five hundred I’ll slow down, or maybe I’ll start renting a storage unit just to hold everything.
I am impulsive, but never careless. I hold a rock in my hands every time I decide.
McCall Hollister is an visual artist and museum educator from Boston (MA) who focusses on autobiographical work about memory, collecting and spaces of transition. Their artistic practice is grounded in bookmaking which creates a medium to explore writing and photography as well as drawing and haptics of the material.
Matthis Frickhœffer leads Kaeur Studio´s research-project "How to look at landscapes?". They are a conceptual artist and researcher.