Breathing Stone

Sarah Tomasetti, 2023

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We may think of lime putty as folding overlapping timelines into the material present.  Its deep time origins begin with the spent skeletons of marine life falling to the ocean floor to be compressed and then uplifted through the movement of tectonic plates.  Tiny cracks in limestone yield to rainwater from above and groundwater from below, birthing pinnacles and caverns. Fresco painting relies on the lime cycle.  Lime putty binds to an aggregate, the working wall draws the moisture of the wet layer back into itself as it cures, and in so doing the carbon driven off during heating and slaking is slowly re-sequestered.  

And so, the stone breathes.

Working with the matter-energy of slaked lime and responding to its properties and cycles is to breathe with it, in proximity to what is intangible and ongoing.  Just as imperceptible vulnerabilities in limestone give way to vast ruptures in the lithic fabric of continents, so too does the material process yield to points of failure that open onto an infinite interiority.  Perhaps vulnerability is a precondition of material practice, entering at the point where something else in the fabric of being fails.  Resulting forms expose what is beneath the appearance of things, reworking those aspects of being that reside nowhere else and then concealing the traces in ways unrecoverable, except for an occasional depth charge felt by the maker or viewer.

These fragments of works emerged in response to rupture and reversal at a material level, wax and cloth the interlocuters that both extend and enclose the stone, water and grit of fresco making.  A layer of cloth adhered to the working wall with latte di calce (lime milk) acts like a membrane beneath the render, producing a fine stone-skin that lightens as it cures and will darken if re-soaked. As the stone-skin is lifted from the wall, infinitesimal cracking ripples across the surface echoing sedimentary layers, tidal movement or the growth patterns of a tree. Pigments of azurite, raw umber, burnt sienna and white bring their own particular properties to the curing, long fissures breaking the surface alongside a weave of finest craquelure, revealed and protected through the addition of melted encaustic wax which holds the lime in a transparent state as though wet. A third technique is explored in the work on the cover, that of stucco lucido, made through the pressing of saponified beeswax into the stone-skin which can, at a precise point in the curing,
be polished with metal.

The stone that exhales with the echo of past lifeforms is as restless as the lithosphere laid over the molten core of the earth, the mountain an animate being named for its gods, and its apparent command of the atmosphere.  A mountain range seen from a distance resembles the sea in its rhythmic rise and fall, and water shapeshifts at altitude, cycling through its liquid, solid and gaseous forms, concealing and nourishing, within and without all that there is. Water added to heated limestone, as if to slake it’s thirst, will penetrate, bind, and hold in suspension the potential of the putty to re-form and return to a stone state with the addition of grit. Exposure to the air with the support of an absorbent wall will set in motion the process of curing during which carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is drawn in. Fresco painting is the adding of pigment washes during this phase and depends upon responsiveness to the temporal movement of moisture: once begun it can be corresponded with, but not stopped or reversed.  On curing the lime render layers are permeable but not soluble, taking on another material state we may experience as breathable.  

Aggregates descend the mountainside as scree and shake free from the stone-skin towards a poetics of grit that can then be ground and re-incorporated into the next bucket of render. The deep crack interrupts the picture plane with its primordial echo of deep time and its future threat of dryness without the cooling and binding quality of water.  Lime putty that dries without aggregates returns to a powder that renders things foggy and weightless, the material equivalent of low cloud. Art practice becomes a parallel space to the world within which the forming image, that emblem of human intention, gives way to the agencies and cycles of matter.