Arts Interview: New Geology

Artist Nicholas B Jacobsen Shows Us What We Can Learn From The Natural World Around Us

Maggie Grimason
5 min read
New Geology
Artist nicholas jacobsen finds stillness in his artistic practice of being a rock (Nicholas Jacobsen)
Share ::
What does being a rock look like to you? To artist nicholas b jacobsen the practice of being a rock is the practice of approaching a new understanding of yourself in stillness, and the world outside in all its busy-ness and all of its tranquility, too. On Friday, April 13, at the UNM Museum of Art (1 University of New Mexico) Jacobsen help us all access our inner rock-ness in a workshop called to (practice) be(ing) a rock, which is part of a bigger project, to be a rock. The free workshop includes a discussion of the ideas encompassed in the practice, followed by a group rock session. Happening throughout the day at the museum are other workshops by a multitude of talented artists as part of Arts Unexpected. For this particular piece of the day-long series, attendees should bring a rock—one that they perhaps feel a certain resonance with—and something comfortable to lay or kneel on.

Jacobsen took a moment to unpack his personal practice, tell us what we can expect from the group practice and detail what we can all learn from the rocks around us.

Alibi: How do you actually practice being a rock?

Jacobsen: A word I’ve been liking lately is "embodiment." I feel like it holds the sense of what I am trying to achieve in recent iterations of this to be a rock project. Embodiment suggests a physical/mental/spiritual/emotional practice, because as bodies, we are these concentric, interpenetrating layers. So, to embody a rock requires holding the physical/mental/spiritual/emotional aspects of rock-ness.

What does your personal practice look like? What do you expect others’ to look like?

I’m more interested in what it feels like, and my practice of being a rock feels like a lot of anxiety met with a deep spaciousness met with the awkwardness of trying to do something I can never fully achieve met with a profound quiet. Sometimes. Sometimes, it just feels like gravel in my knees and struggling to breathe with my head scrunched between my knees. The failure, vulnerability and futility are important to me because as we confront the seemingly monolithic mass of our contemporary problems, some of which could lead to our (and many others’) extinction, we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Challenging "business as usual" is not comfortable; accepting the damages we’ve done (and continue to do) is not comfortable; and meeting these challenges can feel overwhelming, exposing and futile. And we will fail, many times, before we "succeed." This is an emergent process, not a formula. As for anyone else’s practice of being a rock, I hope that they will feel the things they need to feel to gain the strength to confront these same challenges or the challenges present in their lives and, hopefully, to let go of some of the weight of these struggles. My impetus for inviting others to practice with me stems from the question: If excess extraction, consumption and destruction accelerated the climate’s change, what happens when we slow down, when we are still?

How did you come to this concept?

I was hiking in Embudito Canyon and feeling a lot of anxiety because the weight of the information I was gaining in classes on decoloniality and the Sixth Extinction. As I walked I was stilled by the shapes the water had carved into the exposed granite in the troughs of the canyon, thinking of the time it took to shape them and of Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series, in which she creates silhouettes of her body in the ground to forge a primal connection between herself and the Earth (as I understand it). Feeling all of this, I wanted to put my body in these water-carved "silhouettes" in the stone. I wanted to be a rock, to be a part of its scale of time, to let its strength, slowness, warmth and softness hold me and my anxieties. I wanted to join their world, where climate change would have minimal effect, where they can carry the historical weight of 500+ years of colonization, oppression, exploitation and violence without letting it weigh them down. I wanted to experience this time in geologic time. So, I tried to be a rock, several times for the next several weeks. The documentation of it became a video piece called sometimes i want to be a rock and i can’t remember how. It helped.

Why a rock, as opposed to say, a tree?

Simple answer: I love rocks. I grew up in southwest Utah and never knew how much that lithic world impacted me until I moved to Nebraska and there were no more rocks or mountains. Complex answer: For many of the reasons—an interest in the experience of geologic time, their place as witnesses to our history and beings that will outlive us all, the reciprocal nature of their "life" cycle (from a molten state and the trauma of extreme heat and pressure that makes them stone, then their iconic state as stable and solid, which gives way to a slow decomposition into small stones and sand, then buried and turned back to stone). Also, I want to queer the Western construct of "nature" and through this work I started noticing the way rocks are defined through patriarchal masculinity as strong, cold, tied to violence and fixed. I want to experience rocks as fluid, warm and nurturing, because they are those things, too, especially through time.
1 2 3 234