Ilana Halperin’s work covers much ground yet at its core is a means to connect our immediate lived experience with the harder-to-comprehend aeons of geological time. How can we conceive of the temperature of underground magma or the brevity of our own life on this planet?
Through immersion in various media – across creative writing, performance, printmaking, sculpture and film – she weaves stories into her art that drive scientific fieldwork and laboratory experimentation. Her subject matter is eclectic: often one finds ephemeral islands, petrified raindrops, meteorites and body stone collections alongside celebrations of a shared birthday with an Icelandic volcano.
Halperin thinks of geology like a torn-apart book, where each layer of rock is a page in a story. To understand how the story fits together again, we must make imaginative leaps connecting one layer to another.
Halperin conceives of human time by placing herself or others directly in geologically striking places, such as the thermal springs of Iceland (Geothermal Sculptures, 2011), underground caves in France and, for her work Meeting on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (1999), at the very edge where the tectonic plate that supports North America meets its European counterpart.
She conducts fieldwork with specialists worldwide – usually mineralogists, geologists, vulcanologists and archaeologists – talking and learning about rocks and our relationship with them. Travel is vital to Halperin’s method, as she searches out active volcanic regions where new landmass forms, such as Iceland or Hawaii (e.g. Physical Geology (new landmass/fast time) in 2009), or for older now inactive geological sites, such as the north-west of Scotland, where the islands of Mull, Iona and Staffa feature in her project for GENERATION.
The inspiring Hebridean context offers up many links. Staffa with its distinctive basalt structure has been a pilgrimage site particularly for Romantic-minded artists, from the composer Felix Mendelssohn, to visual artists such as JMW Turner, Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney. Serendipity plays its part, as the stone quarried at Fionnphort in Mull was used to build the piers of Halperin’s native island of New York − a stone bridge across the Atlantic.