Saturday, September 3, 2011

Emotions in Stone

The human relationship with stone was the focus of a recent gathering of minds for the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

“There is something about stone that calls forth the desire to touch it, and to shape it with our desires and emotions,” said Professor Susan Broomhall, acting director of the Centre for the History of Emotions, based at The University of Western Australia.

Experts from a variety of disciplines gathered at the University of Melbourne for ‘Hearts and Stones: A Collaboratory on Emotion, Stone and Temporality’.

“Collaboratories are designed to bring the expertise of researchers from different disciplines together and to bear on a challenging area of current scholarship about emotions,” Professor Broomhall said.

In his presentation, “I can get no history from [them]“: The Strange Cases of London Stone and the Stone of Scone’, Associate Professor Tom Prendergast (College of Wooster, Ohio; Chair of English) traced the differing emotional resonances generated by the Stone of Scone and London Stone, said to be the ‘heart of London’.

Human emotional responses to stone may conjure up images of King Arthur drawing his sword from the stone, but also include a seemingly age-old desire for humans to place their mark on stone, Professor Prendergast said.

For example, what range of emotions governs the act of engraving initials, graffiti, or supplementary artwork onto the stone monuments of pre-modern Europe or indigenous rock art? What varied emotional responses do we have to these interventions and why?

Professor Mark Burry (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University; Professor of Innovation (Spatial Information Architecture), an architect who has been working on Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona for the last thirty years, spoke of the Catalonian architect as an example of someone who conveyed his passion through stone. Gaudi devoted his life to depicting the life of Christ in the design of his building, which also continues pre-modern traditions of architecture and their emotional meanings.

“Of course we always consider the emotional impact of our buildings, but I don’t think we can claim the expertise of the cultural take. To take stone from the quarry and render it into built artefact is very useful to remind those in the room who don’t practise this that there is something else behind it,” Professor Burry said.

Professor Stephanie Trigg, CHE’s research program leader and organiser of the Collaboratory said: “We are not thinking in abstract and analytical ways about emotions, but how we actually can give voice to the way that we feel about temporality, time, memory and the past; how stone can act as a conduit of emotion.”

Attachments to Stone: Realising Australia’s Relationship to Rock Art – Susan Lowish

Indigenous artist and author Sally Morgan states that “If Stonehenge were in the Pilbara, it would no longer exist.” referring to the rapid expansion of mining and infrastructure in the far north of Western Australia, which is home to the largest, oldest and most stylistically diverse concentration of rock art on the planet, and more specifically to claims that up to 25% of it has already been damaged or destroyed.

Coincidently, a full-scale replica of Stonehenge is partly built and currently planned for Esperance, on the Western Australian southern coast. The paper explored the range of emotions that fuel relationships with Aboriginal rock art, the history of affective responses since early European exploration of the Kimberley coast and considers how European and Indigenous ideas about landscape (and especially rock and stone) converge or compete.

“I can get no history from [them]“: The Strange Cases of London Stone and the Stone of Scone – Tom Prendergast

On February 17, 1939 in Westminster Abbey a medium by the name of Miss Pixley was allowed to approach the Stone of Scone and perform a “laying on” of hands. After a few moments she reported that “the present contact for British Kings is made by the radiations of this Stone penetrating the Throne seat, up the spine to the head of the enthroned monarch.” She also claimed that though St Edward’s chair (which held the stone) “is vibrant with history … the Stone is quite impersonal, and I can get no history from it.”

One need not believe in psychic rays to acknowledge that there are strange contradictions at the heart of what stones state. They invest personality with kingly dignitas, but they themselves are impersonal. They do not speak, yet they are not mute. It is these contradictions that give stones like the Coronation Stone or the London Stone their power. Over the centuries, rebels like Jack Cade, poets like William Blake or kings like Edward I have sensed that these stones radiate enormous power precisely because they seem to operate outside of time and offer the same power to those who touch them.

Mortal Stone, Immortal Memory? The Affective Power of Stone – Peter Sherlock

Stone is a powerful material in European societies for the commemoration of the dead: it is durable, can be simply cut or artfully sculpted, and replaces the mortal body of the deceased with a permanent memorial. This paper traces the affective power of stone as a tool of memory in late medieval and early modern England and how this power was translated into colonial Australia. How did monuments to the dead construe the relationship between stone memorial, mortal body and the desire for memory? How did visitors respond to stone memorials and what role did the material play in that response? In what ways was the affective power of stone altered as stone memorials became more common and as they moved from inside church buildings to graveyards and cemeteries, from England to Australia?

Past Horizons. 2011. "Emotions in Stone". Past Horizons. Posted: August 19, 2011. Available online:

No comments: