Traveling with Stones
One sunny afternoon in 2004, while strolling with a throng of fellow tourists
past the Sydney Opera House, I came face- to- face with a boulder (plate 58).
She confronted me with a quizzical look, her painted eyebrows poised at
rakish angles, her pink lips pursed. She was settled atop a red car transformed
by her significant weight into a shiny heap of metal. I scanned the scene for
further clues. Had she fallen from the sky or leapt from a nearby building?
Was the car moving when it was struck? What had it done to deserve her
attention, and what, in turn, did she think about the situation? Without re-
course to a human maker, a characteristic of the ensemble was all the clearer:
here, stone had done the sculpting. She had somehow sprung to life to ground
that archetype of modern mobility, the Ford automobile, manufactured and
sold in Australia and other former dominions of the British Empire since the
first decades of the twentieth century.1 In turn, the wide- eyed boulder on her
custom- made love seat transformed the palatial forecourt of the Opera House
into a stage for comic theater. The eggshell peaks of the proud national sym-
bol seemed suddenly fragile, bringing to mind a childhood ditty, “Humpty
Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall . . .” The rhyme was
my only ready reference for the movement of a material typically associated
with inertia: “stone dead,” “stone deaf,” “stone faced.”
This was my introduction to the work of Jimmie Durham, although I
didn’t know it at the time. Still Life with Stone and Car was commissioned for
the Fourteenth Biennale of Sydney, On Reason and Emotion (2004). Durham
ordered a two- ton stone quarried from the Australian Central Coast and
matched its size to that of the hatchback, a 1999 Ford Festiva chosen from a
local used- car dealer. He then painted a crude face on it “like a clown’s with
a hangover,” wrote Michael Taussig and directed the slow lowering of the
rock by crane before the eyes of bystanders and the biennial opening crowd.2
The discrete event temporarily highlighted the artist’s role as orchestrator.
But the life of Still Life with Stone and Car continued to unfold through
a series of encounters with locals and visitors like myself, departing from
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