The Art of Rock Balancing

  • Finding Our Balance With Nature

    April 19, 2012

    Posted By: Robin Punsalan


    Work of Andy Cooper
    Photograph by Vincent Taschetti
    Nature is our finest artist. Those artists who embrace our natural elements somehow just stop us and recognize it. Not manipulating or changing it, but honoring our union with it. Whether it is of a stream that glistens, the winds swirling through the trees in the evening, or pebbles beneath our feet.  The balancing of rocks and finding balance in ourselves, others and the world around us. It may appear to be magic. But, magic is in fact nature at work. And, Oh... how it awes us when we just engage in a silent accordance. 
    Work of Andy Cooper.
    Photo by Vincent Taschetti
    Work of Robert Kaufman
    Last Saturday, my husband and I attended the first Salon des Artistes by TGallery39.  Vincent Taschetti and Michele D'Abrosio invited a wonderful group of artists, writers and photographers to this event.  Hosted by artist/designer Lea Jackson with Michele D'Ambrosio's amazing foods, the day was filled with creative ideas and a vision to the future. A wonderful experience at TGallery39 and I look forward to more salons and more exhibitions.
    Artist Robert Kauffman's exhibit of 'The Art of Rock Balancing' later in the afternoon was a prelude to Sunday's exhibition along with Andy Cooperon Siesta Beach.  Both Robert and Andy created on Siesta Key beaches and even children were curious and learned to build their own! 
    Rock Artists Andy Cooper (left) and Robert Kauffman.

    Kids on the beach created these! 
    Inspiring, isn't it? Maybe a bit tricky if you just drank an espresso! I asked Robert how he does it.
    RobinP: Robert, you make your home in Ithaca. How often are you here in Sarasota?
    RobertK: My family moved me from Michigan to Sarasota in 1952 ( I was beginning first grade). I left in 1964, after graduating Cardinal Mooney HS. I returned as a visitor several times until 1969. Then I returned once in 1975,  once in 1985, once again in 1995. I have been in Sarasota once a year in the last three years. I have a sense, I may be returning more frequently. I only moved to Ithaca in 2008. So I have not really settled there, although I like the area.
    RobinP: How did you begin with the artistry of balancing rocks?
    RobertK: I began this journey after witnessing rocks being balanced on a beach in Toronto, ON, CA in August 2009. I did not begin setting rocks to balance as an intergrated art form until.the next March when I found myself on the same beach and remembered the amazing display I had witnessed there. I set to work and what sparked me to continue in an earnest way was seeing my granddaughter nearby totally engaged with her own balanced structures. I consider her my Muse and since have taken on what I call a practice. It consists of setting at least five structures a day to balance. Following this as a discipline has yielded an incredible journey that pulls me along a path that seems mystical at times.

    RobinP: How often do you perform and where?
    RobertK: It is my practice to set to balance at least five structures a day. Sometimes, I do many more. I have conducted this wherever I am and sometimes it stretches me to find materials. But except for three days I was in hospital this past New Year, I have been able to bring this practice to the table. It periods of extreme cold weather, I have a supply of stones in my room to conduct this practice indoors. I also have an album entitled "{snow rocks" attesting to carrying out this work outdoors in harsh winter weather..  
    RobinP: You mentioned when we met that while you are working, it is difficult to speak or engage with others. This is usually the case when an artist is in that 'zone'. I would think in that moment especially of that ease is essential for the balancing, yes?
    RobertK: Here is a work I penned for our world wide group of rock balance artists. It is called our manifesto and addresses this and other aspects of conducting this work.
    Manifesto of Art of Rock Balancing
                We believe the practice of placing stones in balance is an artistic expression. This can have several manifestations. First, it can appear as Performance Art, where the artist is observed selecting stones, placing them in balance, stepping back, contemplating the work, and perhaps heading to the next piece. The structures themselves can be viewed as Land Art, where they are seen arising in delicate balance from their natural environment, to be left there and then naturally crumbling back into their surroundings. Another form of presentation could be called Rock Art. Here the stones are presented upon a pedestal, either a natural one such as a large boulder or rock shelf, or else a stand specially made for this display. This type particularly but not exclusively lends itself to indoor or outdoor gallery presentations.
                Another way to view this work is as Sculptural Art. This comes about when the artist selects stones on the basis of making them fit into a pre selected vision for creating a representation of a familiar object. These structures are usually placed together into a more lasting arrangement. One type of this category is called Inukshuk,  an aboriginal stone shape representing humans. This leads to another form of balanced stone construction that could be termed Architectural Art. Here we come across arches and towers that could be precursors to utilitarian structures. An interesting note here is that arches carry the balance from a vertical figure to the horizontal dimension.
                Lastly, we can view this as Communal Art. This can come about because a single artist creates several balanced structures that seem to represent groupings of one sort or another. Mandalas are one of these types. Another way to approach this style is when several artists create structures at a common location. This category seems to create a bridge from the solitary world of the artist to a Social Community.  And across this bridge we come upon other art forms used to spread the works of rock balancing artists. Arising out of this we see use of  Visual/Communication Arts, particularly  photographs, videos, sketch renderings, and even written works used to capture the renderings of rock balance Art. At this juncture, artists from all different disciplines share their works and skills around the canvas used by rock balance artists.
                We feel  this work it is best conducted in silence to bring us into awareness of the natural sounds emanating from the environment where the practice is being conducted. From this silence springs communication with all the essential elements we need to bring into harmony a fragile and temporary creation. It may be interesting to note that this means we are called  to listen to stones that by nature are mute.
                The intention of this art form is to use what is indigenous to a location, trusting that nature will deliver all that is necessary, including energy and inspiration. We consider that each rock possesses its own  unique 'essence’ or ‘chi’, which governs how it will be used. Since each individual also possesses a unique inner energy  or “chi”, this process generates a  dialogue and merging of these energies between artist and rock.     
                The art work thus produced is a special blending of  material and energies present at the spot where this performance is conducted. The coming together of these energies and elements is brought about by a deep inner listening, which is a form of meditation.  The resulting Union or Yoga brings together all the energy present and seems to create a Force that spreads a powerful and serene influence to the surroundings that provide witness to this event. Rock balancing artists working in a natural setting  further the spreading of this positive power arising from this intimate relationship between environment, stones and the artist’s deepest sensations and feelings.
                We regard balancing stones to not only be an exercise in style, but a mediation seeking unity with the beauty and precariousness of  all the elements, including humans, involved in this work. The precarious nature of this work reminds us of the temporal nature of all existence and is useful in guiding us to the principle of non-attachment, and to reflect on our own transience. This approach helps reduce our prized concept of our creations and  accompanying creative presumption, but does not alter or reduce the magic or power of the artistic experience.
                This art form is therefore defined by all the  elements that interact with each other in a natural setting. Sound, color, space, time, and movement are brought to physical and psychic unity as the artist manipulates the stones.  Sounds and colors spring from the natural surroundings and help define the setting. Time and movement measure how the work comes into being and then displays its ephemeral nature as it returns to its previous state. This movement , through time, provides a small example of the nature of all matter as it evolves, grows and decays..
    These artistic performances can endure for a relatively long time if they are placed in a sheltered place, stabilized with natural supports, or if they are blessed by Fortune. Beyond the artist’s memory, photographs or videos are the only evidence these works existed.  These traces, marking the  remembrance of that moment, are the only way to make durable this art. These renderings, however, cannot become the object of artistic moment, but only offer testimony. These media cannot  store other essential elements brought out by the performance of this art.
    For most of us, there seemed to be an unspoken understanding about conducting this work outdoors, exclusively in unspoiled settings. That is, we tended to work in areas where stones were naturally deposited. It almost seemed sacrilegious to move rocks away from where they were found. But by the spirit of our work we experienced a deepening connection with nature. By establishing a more profound connection we began to realize that nothing was apart  from Nature. It was only our frame of mind that had kept us separate.
    After a time, the artists because of their testimony concerning their deepening understanding and unity with nature, come to accept they can take this work indoors and away from its previous environment. As we progressed we noted that absolutely nothing is outside of nature. Nature encloses and embraces everything in our world. It was only our thoughts that seemed to separate us from her. Nature moves all the rocks we work with and sometimes she uses us to provide the transport. A human carrying a rock is essentially no different than a rock being pushed downstream by force of running water. In this sense the artist is one and the same as running water.
    This not only led to moving this work into studios, but engendered giving demonstrations and exhibitions. In a strong sense we were acknowledging the existence of Nature’s presence  in man made structures. We also began to expand our repertoire to include other media. We found that the same essence that resided in stones could reach us from other objects including those crafted by human hands. Found objects of all sorts were incorporated into these fragile and ephemeral works of art. No matter the media being used the performance of erecting balanced structures was the same.
    Artists who agree to these manifesto principles constitute a network without confines, capable of promoting the spread of this art form and establishing unity with energy emanating from the Earth .
    The Manifesto of Rock Balancing is an evolving document that can be amended. We draw on the group experiences gained with artistic practice to guide us in this evolutionary experience.


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