artist’s text by Erika Sprey


Blue is a colour that makes one wonder. As the nodal and venture point of inquiry, it incites perception to become tactile and to wander freely within the white frames of Laguard1. The eye, made desirous and restless by passionate questioning, touches and scratches the unyielding surface of a lapis lazuli. The retina reaches like a groping hand into haptic space; it clings like film onto an essentially impenetrable matter – guessing at the realities belying it, the virtualities subsuming it, the histories accompanying it. It is such that the series Laguard isolates and magnifies that obscure object of inquiry, and illuminates the close-range vision it calls for.

An unfathomable deep and inchoate blue makes the nodal point drift beyond the surface, thus making it venture into a kind of seafaring or cosmonautics. Each photograph delimits a micro-field of research, a piece of physis ridden with intensities of random shapes, beset with tactile qualities and geological forces2. The contingent orientations, landmarks and linkages within the campo celeste of the lapis lazuli are in continuous variation and in constant displacement. Whichever point the gaze rests on, the only constant is inconstancy itself, since the open blue does not speak of horizon, background, scale perspective, limit, center, form, plane or contour. Hence, the sapphire3 stone, like the extensive desert that envelops it, is a smooth space of pure diffused connection.

Laguard rests on an important artistic decision: the setting up of a frame. It has no pretension to create, engender or express an inner vision or genius. It only wishes to appropriate and arrange different kinds of space in order to bring them to collision. The series shows twenty gravitational verticals and horizontals, hemming in an outlawed and unruly intensity of ultramarine blue. The five photographs call for long-distance vision, providing a constant orientation and a central perspective. They fix an immobile outside observer into its place, posing an intermediary distance between distant onlooker and a close-vision haptic surface. Yet, each space conditions and constitutes the other. Within the extensive dimensionality of the framework, an intensive perception can move freely in all directions and vice versa: the restricted nomadic movement gives the striated its static form. It is because the exceedingly striated and smooth are standing next, over and against one another in a sharp and clashing contrast that they can bring each other’s intensity to a pure and exemplary momentum.

At the verge of this maximised friction, a blue playground is opened up for free-floating  interpretation and categorisation. The use of photography is herein decisive: the processing visual-striated and the unprocessed haptic-smooth jar with each-other and make their use of space stand out in sharp relief. The medium facilitates, organises and mediates a first sensory encounter and the subsequent process of signification. The frame is set up by a condensation of layer onto layer onto layer, as a semi-transparent light-sensitive film is magnified into an opaque square, depicting the hermetic surface of a luminous stone. In this manner lapis lazuli can function as a chromakey, a blue screen that is used in the film- and television industry as a projection surface for different images, layers that are not superimposed or subordinate but completely absorbed within the blue. Hence, the technical layering of photography evokes an empty blue screen, which becomes an empty signifier and the locus of subsequent semiotic layering.

The choice of  this particular arrangement gives rise to many problems and questions, such as: how can one represent an enigmatic material that has been used for representation itself in the long course of its fascinating history? How can one release a piece of matter for contextualisation and categorisation without falling into universal, timeless, or in other words metaphysical discourse? How should one approach and represent a sensitive and already heavily exploited, colonised and politicised subject-matter without oneself becoming a e.g. visual, technical or theoretical coloniser? In short, where does appropriation end and objectification begin?

Putting aside wonder and restless questioning, the lapis lazuli alone submerges in itself like the immobile mover, absorbing all political, chemical, historical, spiritual, anecdotal, biographical and local discourses into an all-enveloping blue. By setting up a frame and revealing only a pars-pro-toto of an essentially endlessly extensive stone, LAGUARD at once mobilises and mystifies its process of signification.

Erika Sprey

1 Laguard (pronounce lazjuward) is Dari for lapis lazuli. It is derived from the Arabic lazhward that is used for both ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’ and in general for anything blue. The series of photographs Laguard consists of five photographs of cut and polished slabs of lapis lazuli. Scientific mineralogy solely classifies lapis lazuli as a rock on a basis of a specified composition of elements. Commercial classifications are based on grades rather than on varieties. The local mineworkers on the contrary categorise thirteen kinds of lapis lazuli sourced  from the Koh-e-Laguard (the Blue Mountain) alone. An experienced miner or trader picks up a stone, spits on it and determines the species and its shaft of origin by its color and structure.

Laguard displays five out of these thirteen varieties from the Koh-e-Laguard. This mountain houses the oldest still activ mine complex in the world. For over 6000 years lapis of the best quality has been found here. The stones in the photographs were collected and classified in the close the vicinity of the lapis lazuli mines in Sar-e-Sang (the Fountainhead of Stone) in North-East Afghanistan in June 2009.

2 Unlike most gem materials lapis lazuli is not a mineral but a rock. It is complex aggregate of several minerals, notably hauyne to which the stone owes its beautiful colour, (NaCa)₄­₈(SO₄,S)₁­₂(Al₆Si₆O24), sodalite Na₈CL₂(Al₆Si₆O₂₄), nosean Na₈ (SO₄)Al₆Si₆O₂₄ and lazurite (ultramarine), an isomorphic combination of hauyne and sodalite. This igneous stone is formed through a process called contact metamorphosis. Under high pressure and high temperatures, a colourless stone acquires a new hue, a distinctive royal blue. Thus, a chemical singularity sublimes an insignificant grey substance into this colour characteristic of a specific geographical location. No other place in the world has yielded lapis lazuli of such high quality as the mines of Sar-e-Sang. This deep and royal blue  is associated with the presence of sulphur: the higher the percentage of sulphur in the mineral, the deeper  its  blue. Some say that the most beautiful lapis is found deep in the mountain, closest to the volcanic fire, where the highest amount of sulphur is present.

3 Sapphire is the ancient name for lapis lazuli. It derives from the Hebrew sapir via Greek sapphiros; meaning ‘blue stone’.

‘The earth, from which food comes,

Is transformed below as by fire;

sapphires come from its rocks,

and its dust contains nuggets of gold.’ (Job 28:5-28:6)

2 Responses to “artist’s text by Erika Sprey”
  1. Chris van Rooij says:

    van het stilteweekend 😉

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] it incites perception to become tactile and to wander freely within the white frames of Laguard1. The eye, made desirous and restless by passionate questioning, touches and scratches the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: