The Mineral Cabinet of Pietari Skytta, or Balancing the Stone
multi-channel sound 'sauna' and mineral library
Titanik Gallery, Turku, Finland (2016)

The Mineral Cabinet of Pietari Skytta (Balancing the Stone) weaves a relationship between terrestrial balance, deep-time, the formation of minerals and organs of hearing. The exhibition featured daily improvisations with a self-assembling sound-library of musical gestures and field-recordings, created for a rare collection of stones and minerals usually kept locked in glass cabinets at the department of geology and geophysics, University of Turku, Finland.

During his two-month residency in the Titanik workspace, Curtis befriended and lived amongst a rare collection of stones and minerals. Ranging from specimens of sulfur and chromium to copper and hematite, the artist presumes these objects as “sculptures which make themselves; astronomical hieroglyphs from another world (that world which is also our own)”. By investigating the geological gesture evident in each of the terrestrial object’s shape, smell, texture and taste, Tamm developed a recombinant, object-oriented sound composition from which to perform with and play improvisationally as visitors to spelunk his public workspace. The sound elements are part of a sonic library of intensive audio-elements, which can be re-combined ad infinitum into an 'alphabet' of stone.

Actually, most of the terrestrial objects that populate his studio can be found, albeit in trace amounts, within the human body. The artist reminds us of microminerals, or rather, he seduces us to re-member that which grows over millennia within the hearts of mountains also flows within our bloodstream (iron), dusts our lungs (copper), lubricates our muscles (sulfur), and even keeps us upright (otolith crystals, or tasapainokivi)”. Maybe the language of rock and stone insists that communication remain preverbal and arhythmic, unpredictable, and that in order to listen to what the specimens 'have to say' one must first “descend into their own particles” (to use the words of Graham Harman) making audible the echoing sparagmos of time within a pre-cosmological flux of matter.

The center piece of the studio featured a floor space which invited visitors to lay down within a cross section of high-frequency audio monitors. The sounds scapes heard were unique compositions played by Tamm in real time, who guided visitors into a relaxed headspace; he offered tea, and deployed conversation more reminiscent of sauna-speech, rather than the usual gallery talk of art. Slowly, the sound work itself encircled the visitors with whizzing pings of ultrasonic spherics, deep-time rumble of seismic collisions and crystalline growths branching and piercing granite. 

Though the experience was completely open to the public, visitors who made 'reservations' were privileged with extra attention. A video work entitled "The Eye of The Mineralogist" interrupts a corner of the studio, physically unbalancing stability through a spinning survey of thin-sections (microscopic slides of stone). The combinatorics of the environment culminates into a strange type of research, and is just enough to provide one with the sense of the molecules and chemicals and waves of sound that make up the plane of immanence these ‘inanimate’ objects, or so-called ‘lifeless’ beings may exist upon.

Titanik Gallery, Turku, Finland 2016

notes, feb/march 2016:

Listening is a place where objects can gaze upon us; while listening, we are subjected to the focus of our subject. As our eyes scuttle about the edges and contours of things, by way of waves, our ears invite objects to physically inhabit our bodies through their sound. The texture of a mineral or stone forms in unfathomable depths, across unthinkable distances of time, and betwixt relations with other elemental bodies to chaotic and complex to fully adhere through simple cognitive and visual observation. Because of these reasons, as well as a whole host of others, the act of listening might be an ideal platform from which to think about other geologic thoughts and processes with; if deep-time is impossible to see, might the geological codex be accessed through the ears?

“We have here a universe of scrolls, branches, pleura; from them flayed countenances emerge, muscles laid open in their cavities of bone. There are lopped-off breasts, the mutilation twisting the raspberry nipples aside; there are the bodies of frogs, crucified by the galvanic current, their limbs splayed out by the shock, their skin turned blue and flabby by the violence of the spasm." Roger Caillois, The Writing of the Stones

Sound is a poly-chronic object which turns objects into fields of experience, where things can roam and stretch out as elastic temporal bodies ; the sound of an object can sometimes smear its visual shape, elongating its edges and contours through time. When amplified the sound of an object's texture wavers. and quivers into a cloud of improbable mist. And like a real field, with its diversity of grasses and otherworldly insect rituals, varying topology and life cycles, its zigzagging flight paths of birds and airborne seeds with wings, the more time we spend listening to things the more loquacious and articulate their at first silent impression becomes. It seems to be the sound of a thing, rather than the look of it, that is capable of facilitating the experience of matter beyond the discrete accumulation of its appearance. Perhaps our ears have been so naked and vulnerable throughout the eons and across different species, literally always open and without lids, for the purposes of seeing things a bit more clearly.

"Unceasingly the microscopic roses of diatoms, the minute lattices of radiolaria, the ringed cups of corals like tiny body disks with countless thin spikes resembling circles of converging swords, the parallel channels of palms, the stars of sea urchins—all sow seeds in the depths of the rock: the seeds of symbols for a heraldry before the age of blazons." Roger Caillois, The Writing of the Stones

Following the mouth, our eyes like to wrap around the edges of objects, just as the tongue stutters around the contours of words. But to have a conversation with a stone, might mean to spelunk into the cosmological flux of prehistory, a molten past which entangles our present amidst an invisible primordial perfume.

“This sort of coincidence is not an illusion; it is a warning, a signal. It bears witness to the fact that the tissue of the universe is continuous, and that in the vast labyrinth of the world there is no point where apparently incompatible paths, from antipodes much farther apart than those of geography, may not intersect in some common stela, bearing the same symbols and commemorating unfathomable yet complementary pieties.” Roger Caillois, The Writing of the Stones

"Every space is filled, every interstices occupied. Even metal has insinuated itself into the cells and channels from which life has long since disappeared. Compact and insensible matter has replaced the other kind in its last refuge, taking over its exact shapes, running in its finest channels, so that the first image is set down forever in the great album of the ages. The writer has disappeared, but each flourish—evidence of a different miracle—remains, an immortal signature." Roger Caillois, The Writing of the Stones


Thanks to:
Pietari Skyttä of the University of Turku, Department of Geology and Geography, who helped locate and curate the stone/mineral specimens, as well as offer his own collection of thin-section slides to be filmed for the video pieces
Eero Linjama & Jukka Juvonen of the Arts Academie of Turku University, who helped provide access to orchestral timpani instrumentation for the composition, facilitated through the Turun Konservatorio
Jukka Pietila, Musical Director of Turun Tuomiokirkko (oldest cathedral in Finland)