Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) at Peacock Visual Arts

Installation view of the exhibition

Ilana Halperin’s geothermal art/science project Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana), curated by Naoko Mabon, opens at Aberdeen’s Peacock Visual Arts on 30 March until 29 April. Following the first showing of this work at Fujiya Gallery Hanayamomo in Kyushu, Japan, the exhibition will extend to include a new series of prints commissioned by Peacock. Artist Ilana Halperin and curator Naoko Mabon tell us more…

What brought you to work on Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) together?

Ilana: Naoko and I met at a SCAN event in Glasgow, after she had seen and enjoyed my exhibition The Library at National Museum of Scotland the year before. It emerged that Naoko was from Fukuoka, where I had just returned from, following my research residency with Beppu Projects. In fact I left Fukuoka the day after the opening celebrations for the blossom festival in Naoko's home city, which was a wonderful experience! In Beppu, I was researching the possibility of forming a new series of geothermal sculptures in the hot springs around the city. These potential works were a sort of next sculptural generation of the geothermal and cave based work in The Library. In thinking of how to develop this international collaboration, I realised Naoko would be an ideal curatorial partner, as she was born and raised in Fukuoka and therefore deeply connected to Kyushu. I liked that we are both Scottish based cultural practitioners who are from very different cultures and places - for me as a Jewish New Yorker based in Glasgow, and for Naoko as a Kyushu born, Aberdeen based Scot - who could come together to develop something new across our home terrains. As our initial conversation at the SCAN event was extremely lively and touched on ideas around forming new geological artworks, I felt it would be a great match to invite Naoko to work with me on Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) - and it absolutely has been!

Installation view of the exhibition

The exhibition at Peacock Visual Arts follows the first showing of this work at Fujiya Gallery in Kyushu, Japan. What are the historic connections between Aberdeen and Kyushu and how do you think this project fits into a wider context of cultural exchange?

Naoko: Aberdeen and Kyushu enjoy an historic connection, notably through the Aberdeenshire-born 19th Century ‘Scottish Samurai’ merchant Thomas Blake Glover. Glover was a long-term resident in Nagasaki in Kyushu, and a founder of what became Mitsubishi Corporation and Kirin Beer Company. 

This project is not only Ilana’s first opportunity to exhibit at both locations, but also engages the public in bigger questions around the earth’s subsurface. A contemporary art project like this can open up a dialogue crossing art and science on how the earth beneath us brings us energy, such as oil, shale gas, and even geothermal sources, but also risk like earthquakes and tsunamis. This is especially true in both Beppu and Aberdeen, where the environment is shaped by material coming up from under the ground, in hot springs and granite blocks respectively.

To illustrate this, we held a public event in Beppu, featuring picture storytelling performance of a local tale about a Buddhist monk who is believed to calm the Beppu geothermal hells and open Kannawa Onsen. For the Aberdeen event we invite Professor Tim Ingold, whose recent work includes ‘Solid Fluids in the Anthropocene’ a project between Aberdeen and Chile focusing on ice, concrete and volcanic activity. We also invite Director of Peacock Visual Arts Dr Nuno Sacramento who is deeply interested in questions of energy and the environment, to join the discussion.

Halperin taking new geothermal sculptures down from ‘Yumetake' bamboo hotspring cooling system at Hyotan Onsen in Kannawa, Beppu.

How does Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) build on your previous work and what did it mean for you to be able to work Beppu, somewhere you’ve been described as having a long-term fascination with?

Ilana: Over the last few years, my ongoing interest in articulating our relationship to the geological world has manifested through Physical Geology - a project exploring our desire to make corporeal contact with geological phenomena. I have been amassing a new sculptural geology collection, through making work employing naturally occurring geological processes to form each object, as a way of connecting with geology and a more daily sense of geological time. I have made limestone sculptures formed in a petrifying cave in France, which sit alongside geothermal objects submerged in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. This constellation of new sculptural landmass continues to grow with each new geologically active field site.

Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) builds on this potentially life long project in several new and unexpected ways. I have now completed a new series of geothermal sculptures, formed over 12 months in hot springs throughout the city of Beppu. The sculptures are made of ceramic and sandstone encrusted in new geothermal mineral deposits. On a material level this is a leap for me as for some time I have been interested in facilitating 'new geological conglomerates', artworks entirely composed of minerals and rocks from different geographic locations but which grow into newly merged rock forms. Perhaps this also echoes the conceptual content of the project, as ultimately rocks were the first immigrants travelling across the surface of the earth, and throughout deep time, they have met, formed new landmass, and created unexpected geologies. So in a micro-context, this project has brought Scottish sandstone and Japanese mineral life together to form new mobile sculptural landmass - which feels apt at this particular moment in time. 

To live and work in Beppu was a dream of mine for twenty years, as I first encountered the place in a photographic spread in an old book about volcanoes that I bought on the street in New York City in 1995. The phenomenal geothermal wonder of those pictures stayed with me, especially a geothermal pool called Bloody Pond Hell, a pool as red as blood. I am happy to say that Naoko facilitated contact with the keepers of Bloody Pond Hell, and in the exhibition at Peacock I am developing a new wood block print made with red mud from this incredible pool.

Collecting bloody-red mud at Bloody Pond Hell in Beppu.

What were the challenges of curating Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana)?

Naoko: Firstly the geographical distance between Japan and Scotland. While Ilana and myself are based in Scotland, new geothermal sculptures were growing in Kannawa and our Japanese partners were all based in a faraway country with an 8-9 hour difference. Thankfully we had support from Beppu Project who checked the sculpture every two months over the year. The sculptures were looked after well, but the distance often meant 6am phonecalls in my pyjamas!

Secondly, working with a local community not always directly related to the visual art world. Thanks to the lively presence of arts in Beppu through a number of projects by Beppu Project, the Kannawa community is open and supportive to creative activities but building trust between partners while being distant was a challenge - as I knew that it was the key to the project’s success.

Installation view of the exhibition

You are working with Glasgow based design studio Graphical House on a limited edition Artist Book to mark the completion of the project. Can you tell us a bit more? 

Ilana: As my connection to Beppu grew out of print in the form of my old volcano book, it felt important to develop a printed matter response to the project. It is wonderful to be able to collaborate with Graphical House on this piece, as they bring such an intelligence and specificity of thought to every project they work on. We are focusing on a material rich piece, inspired by an amazing catalogue of Pre-Colombian art that I found deep in my father's books when we were clearing his office - it is not a large volume, but it is exceptionally beautiful. Naoko and I decided it would be appropriate to have a spring celebration to complete the project, especially as early days of the project began during spring blossom celebrations in Fukuoka. With this in mind, we also thought it would be nice to bring an element of the project to my home city of Glasgow, so we are in the process of planning a book launch with Patricia Fleming Projects in May.

Images: Courtesy of the artist, Patricia Fleming Projects and WAGON. Installation images credit to Sachiyo Ando.

Find out more about Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) and the Artist book at the project website.

The exhibition opens on Thursday 30 March at Peacock Visual Arts until Sunday 29 April, with an Artist Talk taking place on Saturday 1 April. Ilana Halperin's work is also featured in Edinburgh's Talbot Rice Gallery's current exhibition Between poles and tides, running until 11 May.

Geologic Intimacy (Yu no Hana) was supported by Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

This article was published on 28 Feb 2017