Sailing Stones in Death Valley

Sujin Jung

Let us watch it [the magic stone] in a watery surrounding. It immediately shows, there, a kind of shy agitation. It circulates, flees, makes a thousand affected gestures, swathes itself in veils and finally prefers to dissolve, give up the ghost, to give up the body rather than let itself be caressed, unilaterally rolled about by water. ... Besides, the water is very moved and troubled by it, very seriously punished. It does not easily rid itself of the traces of its crime.1

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are hot, and Zoom Land (the so-called online world) has become a fortress by divesting the materiality of art, music, books, film, and television. The deluge of information, through hashtags and links, seems to set all the world in motion and connection, yet we are living in a world with stronger boundaries than ever. In the middle of this flood, the vibrant works by the four artists featured here—Grace Culley, Nelle Rodis, Mi-Mi Fitzsimmons, and Simon Clark— certainly show a strong materiality and sense of mobility through their trans-material approach to artistic practices, like the magic pebble or stone—soap—against water in Francis Ponge’s poem, ‘Soap’.

The artists’ material dialogue is revealed not only through the material itself but also in the structural certainties of its construction and migration—the boundless traversing of substances, media, and disciplines. The artists assemble, manipulate, and translate materials, from natural through traditional to industrial, to create new structures and meaning. In the process of traversing other disciplines and building new structures, we observe how the materials drift and leave traces, thus linking with the originals. What forces make them move, leaving traces that did not exist before? Following constantly rebuilt and reforming structures, we gain an extended understanding of time and space.


Mi-Mi Fitzsimmons’ sculptural work, With arms awide we step (all the sweet enclosures) (2021), consists of three individual works incorporating found and collected materials, including cotton and horsehair. They ‘preserve’ a particular time and memory. The particular memories keep going ‘round and round’ through the artistic process from drawing to weaving. To borrow Clarice Lispector’s beautiful sentences from Água Viva (trans. Benjamin Moser), the artist seems to persistently seize ‘the fourth dimension of this instant-now so fleeting that it’s already gone’.5 In another way, Fitzsimmons perseveringly materialises the ‘unattainable forever’.6

The integration of Fitzsimmons’ personal experiences and connections into her process creates a contemplation of intimacy. Through repeated processes, the insubstantial past is refined and materialised into liquid monuments. Persistently yet leisurely stretched white threads around the wooden frame convey geometric shapes and lines filled with horsehair, and these simple shapes seem to be the atom of time and memories. Subtle material gestures in motion—wrapping, filling, and weaving—hint at the connection to one another over time through memories that can be shared or hidden.


The exhibition title is inspired by the sailing stones in Death Valley National Park, which are often considered a mystery. These stones are found on the playa desert floor, with long trails stretching behind them. They seem to be moving, which makes one wonder about the powerful forces that move them. (In fact, they are propelled by a rare combination of natural conditions and events.) The vibrant productions of the four artists featured here are resonant with the material drift of the sliding stones, blurring the boundary between life and death. I hope that this exhibition, blurring the boundary between materiality and immateriality, invites every viewer to ponder what created the subtle dialogue on our world in the trans-material works contained within.

1. Francis Ponge, Soap, trans. Lane Dunlop (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 42.
5. Clarice Lispector, Água Viva, trans. Benjamin Moser (New York: New Directions, 2012), 3, 6.
6. Lispector, Água Viva, 3, 6.

Sujin Jung is a curator and an MA student in art curatorship. Her interests include politics of ecology and new materialism in the context of contemporary art.