Ilana Halperin: The Library


By Bryony Bond, Contemporary Art Consultant

Glasgow-based artist Ilana Halperin has been researching and developing ideas for a contemporary art exhibition inspired by National Museums Scotland’s collections. The exhibition, The Library, is open from 24 May-29 September 2013. Over the past few months, she’s been looking through National Museums Scotland’s collections, finding out about minerals, fossils, molluscs and rocks and uncovering some fascinating stories. In this series of blog posts, we share some of the fantastic things she’s found.

It’s not often that you get close to something from outer space, but when meteorites hit the Earth they actually make new objects too. Artist Ilana Halperin has been looking at some of these close encounters, and finding out more about things like Tektites. Ilana explains:

 “A tektite is related to meteorite, but is formed from the Earth. When a meteorite hits the ground it melts the material around it and throws it up into the air. This melts and the reformed material is the tektite. I see a tektite as embodying the moment of contact between the meteorite and the surface of the Earth. I thought that this was beautiful, a preserved moment of contact between outer space and the Earth.”

Australite (tektite), small deformed brown metallic disc, from Uralla, Harding County, New South Wales, Australia

Australite (tektite), small deformed brown metallic disc, from Uralla, Harding County, New South Wales, Australia.

Moldavite (tektite), glassy translucent green with rough crispy surface, from Czechoslovakia

Moldavite (tektite), glassy translucent green with rough crispy .surface, from Czechoslovakia.

Indochinite (tektite), dull black elongated dumb-bell with surface pitting, from Villa Alliance, Da Lat, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam

Indochinite (tektite), dull black elongated dumb-bell with surface pitting, from Villa Alliance, Da Lat, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam.

You can visit Ilana’s website here.

Peter DavidsonBy Peter Davidson, Curator of Minerals

OK, time to ‘fess up! I have to say I wasn’t very familiar with Ilana’s work before beginning to work with her, but once I began to delve into some of her past and current work I was immediately struck by her very personal and insightful take on geology. Viewing the work of a contemporary artist can be a confusing and mystifying business – it is sometimes difficult to discern what the artist is really trying to say. But working closely with Ilana offered curators here a unique opportunity to gain a real insight into not just how, but also why an artist chooses their subject and the way they develop their ideas and the medium chosen to portray it.

The other artists I have worked with have looked at minerals in terms of their appearance, such as colour or texture, or some inherent property like ultra-violet fluorescence, but Ilana’s exhibition was going to tell a much more personal, almost autobiographical, story.

A lot of Ilana’s work is sculptural and therefore can be ideally suited to geological themes, but a lot of her ideas and inspiration involve processes and time. We can see this in ‘The Library‘, where the pieces are framed within a context of time and the processes that went into their formation, whether billion or million year geological time-scales or the much quicker month-long creation of her intriguing pieces from mineral springs in France and Iceland.

Limestone sculpture forming in the Fontaines Pétrifiantes in the Auvergne region of France

Limestone sculpture forming in the Fontaines Pétrifiantes in the Auvergne region of France.

Limestone sculptures on display in Ilana's exhibition The Library at National Museum of Scotland

Limestone sculptures on display in Ilana’s exhibition The Library at National Museum of Scotland.

However, it is her use of mica “books” that perhaps most captures my imagination. It is surely no coincidence that they are on display here in Scotland, as it was the work of that great Scottish geologist, Charles Lyell (1797 – 1875), that taught future generations of geologists to read the story of the Earth in the rocks and minerals.

'Book' of mica etched by Ilana

‘Book’ of mica etched by Ilana.

Etched 'books' of Mica on display in The Library

Etched ‘books’ of Mica on display in The Library.

Seeing the project develop and take shape has been hugely rewarding. The frequent contact with Ilana allowed us to discuss ideas, look at specimens and give advice and help, but it was about seeing how her ideas developed from little seeds into a full blown vision that was our real reward.

Ilana Halperin: The Library was open at National Museum of Scotland until Sunday 29 September 2013.

By Bryony Bond, Contemporary Art Consultant

Glasgow-based artist Ilana Halperin researched and developed ideas for a contemporary art exhibition inspired by National Museums Scotland’s collections. The exhibition, ‘The Library’, was open from 24 May-29 September 2013. Over the months, she looked through National Museums Scotland’s collections, finding out about minerals, fossils, molluscs and rocks and uncovering some fascinating stories. In this series of blog posts, we share some of the fantastic things she found.

It’s not the usual place you’d expect to find a ghost, but National Museums Scotland actually has around twenty so-called Ghost Minerals. They’re one of the objects that artist Ilana Halperin has uncovered in the Museum’s stores and they’re more beautiful than spooky. Ilana explains:

“In a ghost mineral, one mineral has formed and then another mineral, or even the same mineral, will begin growth again and will form around it. Once it’s fully formed you can see the ‘ghost’ of one mineral inside another. They’re really very beautiful objects, with a very poetic and evocative name!”

Ghost mineral from National Museums Scotland geology collection.

Ghost mineral from National Museums Scotland geology collection

Quartz ghost mineral from National Museums Scotland geology collection

Quartz ghost mineral from National Museums Scotland geology collection.

You can visit Ilana’s website here.

By Bryony Bond, Contemporary Art Consultant

Glasgow-based artist Ilana Halperin has been researching and developing ideas for a contemporary art exhibition inspired by National Museums Scotland’s collections. The exhibition, The Library, is open from 24 May-29 September 2013. Over the past few months, she’s been looking through National Museums Scotland’s collections, finding out about minerals, fossils, molluscs and rocks and uncovering some fascinating stories. In this series of blog posts, we share some of the fantastic things she’s found.

Artist Ilana Halperin has come across some incredible discoveries during her research at National Museums Scotland, but these have got to be some of the strangest. Who knew that snails were sculptors and molluscs were the real makers of the Golden Fleece?

“While at National Museums Scotland I’ve been branching out into other areas beyond geology and mineralogy: I’ve been spending time with corals and molluscs and the curators who look after those collections. I’ve been looking at some lovely things in those departments, such as carrier shells. As these molluscs grow their shells, they also pick up bits of rocks, coral or other shells and attach them to their own. So their shells become these crazy, fabulous sculptures.

Coral specimens in the National Museums Collection Centre

Coral specimens in the National Museums Collection Centre.

Hexacorallia (coral)

Hexacorallia (coral).

Tubipora musica (organ pipe coral)

Tubipora musica (organ pipe coral).

Xenophora conchyliophora (Atlantic carrier shell)

Xenophora conchyliophora (Atlantic carrier shell).

“I’ve also been looking at golden sea threads, which are rumoured to be the substance that the Golden Fleece was composed of. The threads are made by a particular bivalve to tether itself to a substrate, like an anchor. At various points these threads have been harvested and woven together. National Museums Scotland has a really beautiful pair of gloves and a matching scarf all woven from this thread!”

Gloves and scarf made from golden sea threads

Gloves and scarf made from golden sea threads.

You can visit Ilana’s website here.

By Bryony Bond, Contemporary Art Consultant

Glasgow-based artist Ilana Halperin has been researching and developing ideas for a contemporary art exhibition inspired by National Museums Scotland’s collections. The exhibition, The Library, was open from 24 May-29 September 2013. Over the past few months, she’s been looking through National Museums Scotland’s collections, finding out about minerals, fossils, molluscs and rocks and uncovering some fascinating stories. In this series of blog posts, we share some of the fantastic things she’s found.

Born in New York, USA, in 1973, Ilana Halperin was fascinated by geology and museums at an early age.

“As a child, one of the main places that I went exploring and adventuring was the American Museum of Natural History, specifically the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals. In 1976 the Hall had just been redeveloped and reopened. It had been built to mimic the interior of a cave and all of the rocks and minerals were spot lit. So, even before I started carving stone there was an unadulterated, primary experience of being in this beautiful space where all these beautiful, incredible mysterious things were glittering in the dark.

“In the Hall you could explore and discover things, clamber over huge chunks of copper and jasper. The Hall was actually designed to make you want to climb all over it; the Museum wanted children and adults to interact with the geology. In an article I found about the reopening of the Hall, they even said they wanted people, ‘to touch these specimens, put their arms around them, fall in love with them.’ OK, very 1970s, but I guess you could say that I’m a case study for a success story. Because that incredible feeling of encountering these rocks and minerals, and having access to them like that, definitely had a huge impact on my development as a human being.”

In 1998 Ilana moved to Scotland to study at the Glasgow School of Art, and since then she’s gone on to make exhibitions in museums and galleries all over the world. While she’s working at National Museums Scotland, she’s also making a permanent display of geology for Shrewsbury Museum – not many artists get invited to do that! So why does Ilana like working with museums?

Ilana's Steine exhibition at the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité

Ilana Halperin, installation view of STEINE, Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité, Berlin, Germany, 2012.

I encounter ideas or objects I haven’t come across before, because every collection is completely different. You never know what you’re going to find out about, and what totally unexpected routes you might take. Certain objects, and conversations with the people who know about the collections, can open up a whole new world, or a completely new way of thinking about things.

“For example, at Manchester Museum I came across a cave cast, which was an object formed in a cave, and by a cave, over a period of one year. That object sparked off a whole new direction in my work, within my thinking about time and our relationship to geology. Then in Berlin, I was introduced to a collection of body stones, gall stones and kidney stones, and this was a huge revelation that the body could produce geology. I wasn’t aware of that until I was put into contact with that particular collection.”

Still from Ilana's Super 8 film Physical Geography

Ilana Halperin, Physical Geology (new land mass/fast time), 2009, still from Super 8 film, 3 min 48 sec.

Ilana Halperin, Physical Geology (new land mass/fast time), 2009, still from Super 8 film, 3 min 48 sec.

You can visit Ilana’s website here.