You seem so settled for one that doesn't belong

West Space, 15-19 Anthony Street, Melbourne,
20 February - 14 March 2009


Glacial erratics and other outlandish propositions

Rocks are generally regarded as solid and permanent but I've come to consider them as shifting, mutable things. Others have thought this too, perhaps none more beautifully than Robert Macfarlane:

“To understand even a little about geology gives you special spectacles through which to see a landscape. They allow you to see back in time to worlds where rocks liquefy and seas petrify, where granite slops about like porridge, basalt bubbles like stew, and layers of limestone are folded as easily as blankets. Through the spectacles of geology, terra firma becomes terra mobilis” 1

From this perspective then a rock has stories of travel and adventure etched onto its surface as well as in its very being. With a different set of spectacles perhaps, or with the help of patience and a phrase book, it could be possible to learn this:

Once upon a time, about ten thousand years ago, the earth emerged from the last Ice Age. In geological terms, ten thousand years is but an eye blink, though in human terms much has changed. Then the human population was less than one million hunter-gatherers, living in Australia and other equatorial regions such as a lush and verdant Sahara. Meanwhile most of the earth, especially the north, had spent the last hundred thousand years or more hibernating under snow and ice.

As the land slowly warmed, the glaciers melted leaving behind scars on the bedrock made by the grinding rasp of pack ice. Also debris, carried hundreds of miles on top of the glaciers, sank to the ground. Included in this cargo were rocks and boulders now called 'glacial erratics' because of their marked distinction in morphology from the bedrock below.

Many of these rocks were too large to move and now rest where they first fell. Others have been moved many times since, and used in buildings and ballast, gardens and graves.


While visiting the New England region of the United States last year I explored the uses people make of rocks and boulders in that long-settled and extensively rocky landscape. There the land is scattered with glacial erratics: the largest of these disrupting the rolling green fields and gardens, and the smaller ones used in the network of rock walls that lace the landscape.

The geological phenomenon of glacial erratics adds another dimension to my interest in the movement of rocks for cultural reasons.

Since undertaking an arts residency in 2007 in Eltham, at the former property of landscape designer, Gordon Ford, I have been making paintings that depict Ford's use of rocks in a project called A dark archive. From the late 1950s until the 1990s Ford constructed gardens that embodied an idealised version of nature that both reflected and shaped the aesthetic of Eltham as an anti-suburban, bush environment. Ironically Ford's preferred rock was basalt, a product of volcanos, which he obtained from farms in the north and west of Victoria in order to create his 'indigenous' gardens in the east.  

In this installation, You seem so settled for one that doesn't belong, a large glowing boulder-like object sits adjacent to paintings of other alien rocks.   I imagine these moved rocks as immigrants or travellers that have carried the culture and traditions other times and places.

Penelope Aitken, February 2009

1. Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind, 2003, Pantheon Books, New York, p.43.


Ross Moore, "Icy depths plumbed", The Age, Friday 13 March 2009, p.19
Anna Zagala, "Penelope Aitken", Art and Australia, Vol.46 No.4, Winter 2009, p. 674