Build-it-yourself rock garden poses weighty challenge to Cantor visitors

Charles Junkerman stones_round

The project 100 Stones/100 Days invites Cantor Center visitors to arrange and rearrange pieces of sandstone in whatever way they see fit.

L.A. Cicero stones

Charles Junkerman, who conceived of the project 100 Stones/100 Days, is archiving a daily photographic record of the installation’s changing face.

When Charles Junkerman was asked by Cantor Arts Center staff to lecture about any work he chose from the museum's collections, Junkerman, dean of continuing studies and summer session and associate provost, responded with an invitation—and an installation—of his own.

An admirer of the work of British environmental artists Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long, Junkerman arranged to have 100 pieces of sandstone delivered on Jan. 8 to the gravel apron on the museum's north lawn. In a project titled 100 Stones/100 Days, Junkerman is encouraging museum visitors to get their hands on the material, "arranging, rearranging and disarranging " the stones in any way they like. On April 14, as the project nears its April 17 end, Junkerman will give a talk at 4:30 p.m. in the Cantor Center auditorium as part of the "Faculty Choice" lecture series. Until then, "Come and play," he urged. "Make the stones dance."

The project takes cues from both Goldsworthy and Long. The stones for Goldsworthy's serpentine Stone River sculpture, installed in front of the museum in 2002, are from the same source as the stones for the interactive installation: the campus "boneyard," a repository of salvaged materials, including sandstone from buildings damaged in the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. And like Long, whose 1990 Georgia Granite Circle is installed on the Cantor Center outdoor art terrace, Junkerman imposed structure on his project work with an arbitrary number of stones and days. (For the work 1449 Stones at 1449 Feet, Long gathered together and photographed 1,449 stones at a point 1,449 feet above sea level.) A primary subject of the artists could be said to be the interaction of humans, nature and time—Junkerman is archiving a daily photographic record of the changing face of the installation and recording how visitors engage with the stones over the 100 days of the project.

Junkerman, who holds a doctorate in comparative literature and has taught in the English, History and Anthropology departments, chose to focus on the two outdoor sculptures partly because he shares the British artists' fascination with stone, he said. "What looks like an inert material is filled with energy and a temporal quality. Each stone has a biography."

There's also pure, tactile pleasure in moving rocks around, said Junkerman, who pulled on heavy gloves and an old jacket and arranged stones as he talked recently. The stones, hand-selected by Junkerman for the exhibit, range from softball- to watermelon-sized. Visitors can protect their hands with work gloves stashed in a basket just inside a nearby door.

Just 16 days into the project, museum visitors had filled up more than a dozen pages in a journal—also tucked just inside the door—with sketches, comments written in three languages and often lyrical meditations. ("Rockheaven/Eruption:Disruption," began one entry.) Artistic conceptions vary wildly: A 6-year-old girl and her mother drew a heart with the rocks; others have created cairns and Stonehenge-like assemblages. Junkerman overheard a doctoral student report to his friends via cell phone, with disappointment, that the stones weren't large enough to build a ziggurat.

The installation appears to be a magnet for children—one family came both Saturday and Sunday last weekend—but there's evidence that 100 Stones/100 Days brings out a playful spirit in visitors of all ages.

"Moved stones around," one participant wrote on Jan. 21 in the project journal. "Started to make a self-portrait. Stopped when my back started to hurt. Only the teeth look like mine."

The Cantor Arts Center is at Lomita Drive and Museum Way, off Palm Drive. The center is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and on Thursdays until 8 p.m. For more information, call 723-4177.