(selected by Sally O'Reilly)
Nomadic Landmass (Eldfell), 2005
Ilana Halperin is an American artist now based in Glasgow where she is an Honorary Research Fellow at Glasgow School of Art. After starting out as a stone carver she began to pursue a more performative practice and embarked on a series of projects exploring the relationship between geology and everyday life. Through a variety of media - lens-based work, drawing, performative lectures, short stories, sculptural installations - Halperin merges a topography of personal experiences with geological phenomena, recording coincidences and serendipitous encounters: geological events become melodramas and personal narratives become scientific ones through a collision of geological and personal time-scales. Projects often involve travelling to remote locations and performing actions or poetic gestures. Her endeavours have taken her from the Karst Mountains in Guanxi, China to the cave networks of Slovenia; activities have ranged from boiling milk in a 100 degree Celsius sulphur spring in the crater of an active volcano, celebrating her 30th birthday with a landmass of volcanic ash of the same age, and recording the sound of a melting glacier. Drawing became the means to record these outside activities, functioning both as a log book or a narrative report, and writing emerged as an equally important process.
Halperin's conceptual approach and technique recall the works of American land artist Robert Smithson (1938 - 1973) in particular his ideas on entropy and the notion of site and 'non-site' - where 'printed matter' or other forms of documentation describe a site virtually alongside actual geological specimens taken from the site. Indeed, the booklet accompanying Halperin's research/science residency at Camden Arts Centre in 2005 cited Smithson describing his and Donald Judd's rock-hunting trip to New Jersey, and their mutual interest in geology and mineralogy. 'Ruins in Reverse (Nomadic Landmass)' - the title itself a reference to Smithson's 'Hotel Palenque', a slide lecture presented to architecture students in Utah, 1972 - was a performative lecture delivered at Camden in 2005 as part of the wider Nomadic Landmass project, inspired by Eldfell - a cone of volcanic ash formed after an eruption in 1973 on Heimaey, an island off the southern coast of Iceland - the site of Halperin's 30th birthday party. Andrew Patrizio writes, 'Eldfell, its neighbours Surtsey and Surtla, joined Halperin and a friend in an event fixed in time and where all the participants - carbon-based or ash - are only on this planet for the briefest of geological time'. (1) Curiously, it is noted that Smithson himself had visited Eldfell in 1973 and had plans to make works in response to this emergent landmass. However, Smithson tragically died later that year.
1. Andrew Patrizio, 'Ilana Halperin: Emerging Properties', Drawing Links, Drawing Room, London, 2005.
Sally O'Reilly on Ilana Halperin
Ilana Halperin's approach to subject matter is expanded almost to the point of explosion. She considers an idea as a multi-dimensional entity in time and space, which is also augmented by any number of reflexive associations between its constituent parts, the viewer, the artist and history, both personal and official. The bald fact of a volcanic eruption, then, becomes a locus around which she ranges references to her own experiences, her ancestry, the stories of strangers, scientific theory and an autonomous art object, such as a series of drawings or photographs.
'Ruins in Reverse (Nomadic Landmass)' was initiated by a visit to Eldfell volcano on the artist's 30th birthday as a celebration of their simultaneous appearance in 1973. From this coincide of birth and eruption the project followed, or rather created, a chain of increasingly interconnected events that comprise correspondence with a volcanologist, participation in a fieldwork session in the longest cave in the world, a conversation about a crystal shard with a geologist in Glasgow, an interview with an Arctic explorer in Lapland, who later went missing en-route to the North Pole, and an inexplicable connection with a German baker who lived at the foot of Eldfell. The outcome is a conurbation of material image, object and text, including photographs taken during a journey in a small plane, drawings inspired by the Heimaey eruption, geological specimens, and footage of the 1973 eruption and the ensuing evacuation of the island, filmed by the Global Volcanism program at The Smithsonian Institution.
Often Halperin augments the gallery based-work with a free booklet comprising narrative accounts of research and histories encountered. These publications resemble a novel by WG Sebald, conflating the genres of documentary and literature, and skewing a direct description of past events with associative leaps that diverge from ideas of truth or useful relevance. Such comparisons of geological phenomenon and personal experience could be translated into a comparison of the sublime with the mundane. Halperin puts forward the idea that the two are intertwined, that we are all concomitant within the deep time of the universe. The nesting of her narratives and the dovetailing of time and events, suggests that the relation between human and environment, time and action, research and imagination are entirely reciprocal.
Halperin's current project 'Towards Heilprin Land' comprises two distinct but linked stages of fieldwork: a series of interviews with volcanologists at the Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institution, about their long-term relationships with volcanoes around the world, and an eco-expedition to the north-east coast of Greenland. The generated material will be configured into an installation for the Sharjah Biennial as well as a new written narrative for live performance, to be premiered at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow in 2007.
Sally O'Reilly, 2006.
Ilana Halperin (b, 1973, New York) completed an MFA (Fine Arts) at Glasgow School of Art in 2000, having previously studied at Brown University, USA. She has worked with diverse organisations including The Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institution, The British Geological Survey in Edinburgh and the conservation organisation Earthwatch. Recent peformative lectures have taken place at the EFA Gallery, New York, Camden Arts Centre, London, The Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York (delivered by artist Adam Putnam) and the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo. In 2004 she was artist in residence at Skaftfell Cultural Centre, Seydisfjorder, Iceland and she has recently returned from a residency on board a ship with Oceanwide Expeditions/Tiffin Projects in Greenland.
Recent exhibitions include Nomadic Landmass (solo), Doggerfisher, Edinburgh (2005); Our House is a House that Moves, Living Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland (2006); Drawing Links, The Drawing Room, London (2006); How I Finally Accepted Fate, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York (2006); and The Square Root of Drawing, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin (until 2 December). Halperin will have a two person show at Studio Visconti, Milan in 2007. She lives and works in Glasgow.
Ilana Halperin, Notes on drawing
'Within my practice, drawing, like landmass, combines known events with fantastical occurrences that happen in real life. In Lapland, the river broke very early one year. The floods that came as a... read on
Journey through the surface of the Earth, Mungo Campbell
ICELANDIC MINERAL SAMPLE 18 (Heimaey, 1973) 'A man named Mike at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow examined a crystal shard found in October 2003 on the crest of the Eldfell volcano. He decided the... read on