Sunday 1 July 2012

A Tale of Two Rocks

For those of us into large rocks, it's been a week to remember. 

Los Angeles' LACMA has seen the arrival of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, a 340- tonne boulder now balanced above a sunken walkway. Despite murmurs over its US$10m price tag, it has been enthusiastically received in its new hometown.

More controversial, if more petite, has been Wolfgang von Schwarzenfeld's Global Stone project in Berlin's Tiergarten. The artist brought a 35-tonne sandstone boulder from Venezuela as part of the project and - although he says that former Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera authorised its removal to Germany - some Venezuelans say it was stolen and they want it back. 

Global Stone in Berlin
It is being claimed that the stone is sacred to the Pemón Indians local to the Canaima National Park in south west Venezuela, where the boulder was found. The Guardian reports that a 'small group of the Pemón is alleging that the rock is their "grandmother" – a petrified ancestor of the tribe – and that its removal, and separation from a "grandfather" has led to natural disasters throughout Venezuela, including a mudslide in 1999 that killed 20,000, harvest failures, and the disappearance of fish in the region's rivers'. 

But it's also suggested that the sacred nature of the boulder in question (along with the tribal story to back it up) has been hurriedly concocted for political purposes. According to von Schwarzenfeld it was only after the stone had been removed that any interest was shown in it. One Pemón expert, Bruno Illius, has said that the story was created by current Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, with the intention of creating an international cultural cause and then solving it to gain positive propaganda. "The whole protest has been manipulated," the Guardian reports him as saying. "Hardly any of the Pemón know about the stone's supposed origins."

A resolution has yet to be found for the Venezuelan boulder, known to the Pemón as the Kueka Stone. The claim over it may be for theft, but as with many cultural heritage issues the solution may well be political and emotional rather than legal.

Read more in the Guardian and the Associated Press

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