chapter  6
16 Pages

Round mound and earth sky

If you heap stuff up over a period of time, always adding to the top of the pile and allowing it to settle of its own accord, it will generally form a mound, roughly circular in plan and conical or bell-shaped in elevation. On a miniature scale, we can observe this process of mound formation in the sand of an hourglass. On a gigantic scale, it can be witnessed in the formation of volcanic cones. From molehills to ants’ nests, mounds are among the commonest forms in nature. They often result from human activities too – think of shell middens, stone cairns, sandcastles, and heaps of compost, refuse and slag. In every case, the roundness of the form emerges spontaneously, due to the way in which the pressure of material added from above displaces material already deposited, equally in all directions. One could say that the mound builds up precisely because the material of which it is made is continually falling down. Each and every particle, as it falls, eventually finds its own more or less enduring place of rest. The Brazilian artist Laura Vinci has brought this process to life in a work that simultaneously demonstrates the dynamics of mound production – as a conveyor belt continually transports fineground marble from one heap to another – and comments on the environmental impact of industrial mining in the state of Minas Gerais. The work, entitled Máquina do Mundo (‘Machine of the World’), is described by the artist herself as an ‘anti-machine’ that overturns the values of permanence, solidity and timelessness associated with classical architecture and statuary by using the very material that epitomises these values – white marble – to enact the contrary principles of perdurance, transformation and the passage of time (Figure 6.1).