Tuesday 6 March 2012


Acoiris Head 60x50x20cm

The Metaphysics of Stone
 The Fine Art Gallery
148 New Bond St,
Berkeley Square 
Walking the streets of London, I look forward to being greeted by art works which are beautiful, provocative, witty, transparent, knowing, naive...and then one day I see something which makes time stand still.  Emily Young's work is in that category. Acoiris Head can be seen on the curling stairs of The Fine Art Society gallery in New Bond Street.

It's shocking not least because, like Greek and Roman sculptors, we usually prefer our statues to be made of sublime and flawless marble and limestone. It's true that in recent years we've become used to artists such as Marc Quinn challenging sculpture’s fixed ideas of what is natural or beautiful. And of what materials sculptors can use (he sculpted his  head in his own frozen blood). But when exploring the nude  his life size marble portraits at the V&A Give and Take exhibition still had surfaces which were pristine, dazzling white and unblemished; as was his monumental marble statue of a pregnant disabled woman seen on Trafalgar Square’s  fourth plinth in 2005.
But here the stone Young uses is riddled with flaws. Acoiris is a rare and complex variegated onyx from Mexico. The quarry where this particular piece came from was closed many years ago, and this material is no longer available. It's been described as the minestrone soup of the geological world. Fragments blown out of volcanoes, together with other bits and pieces deposited and aggregated by gravity, are chemically glued together by temperature and pressure over millions of years. Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London, wrote an article about Young's work in the current edition of The Times, Eureka. I think that in England the nearest thing we have to ‘minestrone’ rock is found in the Cornish coastline and when I next go there I shall see it with new eyes.

Emily Young celebrates the faults, the veins and the splits of the material she's working with. Her sculptures have holes and cracks and wrinkles.   They are multi dimensional – you can see inside the skin of the rock. The result it tender and intimate. The flat images I'm showing cannot do justice to the subtlety and delight of a three dimensional piece, nor of the medley of soft yet vibrant colours. It has to be seen to be believed. 

There is a special delight in standing beside something which was billions of years in the making; which is, like us, deeply flawed; which cannot be melted down or washed away, but is just beginning new conversations with countless generations now and in the future.

Emily Young writes:
I carve in stone the fierce need in millions of us to retrieve some semblance of dignity for the human race in its place on Earth. We can show ourselves to posterity as a primitive and brutal life form - that what we are best at is rapacity, greed, and wilful ignorance, and we can also show that we are creatures of great love for our whole planet, that everyone of us is a worshipper in her temple of life.’
One reviewer of Young’s work wrote in a visitors’ book:
Tread silently here
And think softly
Lest you disturb the presences
That gaze back to the beginning
And look forward to the end.
Richard Twinch, Beshara News.

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