On Stone

Under a clear blue sky the dragonfly takes its last migration through breezeless air.  Touching down momentarily on still water, too late to know that this salty pool won’t quench a thirst, its fragile wings are pulled down into the sedimenting basin of an isolated lagoon. Just out of reach from the coast nothing leaves the stagnating pool and warmed by the sun the water slowly evaporates.

Under the same sky 150 million years later, in a territory now under the jurisdiction of a place called Bavaria, the once calm reef is now land with a settled population. Business thrives in a town becoming renowned for its rich deposit of finely sedimented limestone and quarry beds are excavated to feed a growing demand for this now valuable natural resource being traded in the printing industry. And once again, by chance, the small creature’s last journey comes to light, each detail of its flesh depicted in the smooth surface of the soft limestone matrix.

Not looking for fossils, the miners of Solnhofen wouldn’t have known the part their labouring bodies played in writing history; nor how the invention of lithography marked a shift in the trajectory of communications, changing both the relationship between image and text in the printed document, and the speed at which information could be disseminated. Brought to life through this process was a means of sharing knowledge, and a unique visual language.  But as with all technology, in pursuit of speed and efficiency, industry moved on from its Jurassic ancestry – leaving to a different timeline errant offspring that came to light in the process. 

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1. Though obtainable on the Continent, lithographic stone is becoming increasingly difficult to buy in the British Isles as its use has been supplanted by plates.  However, its unique properties for artists make it well worth finding. Some printers still have stocks which usually cost about 6d. per pound. When selecting stone choose sizes which your press can manage comfortably, and make sure they are of good thickness – minimum 3” if possible.[1]  

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Encounters

My first encounter with lithography stone was in a basement in 1985.  Leaning undisturbed against a damp wall of this subterranean world, a small colony of these weighty limestone slabs were gathered together, their dusty backs glistening with sweat from the humid air. Edges dappled with black ink and characteristically indented with the pock marks of a stone mason’s finishing tool, these broken fragments of the earth’s crust had been cut, measured, and transported for the purposes of art. A place dedicated to the printing and publishing of artists’ lithographs, in time I came to understand that this small world of machinery and printing ephemera was a playground of possibilities; a place where the careful deliberations and intense labour of printers, negotiated the slippery relationship between organic materials and technology.  Having been largely superseded by the greater efficiency of zinc plates and photo-lithographic processes, these stones had mostly fallen out of use. But occasionally an artist would ask to draw on stone, and a suitable specimen would be selected, dusted off and maneuvered into the graining sink to be prepared. 

Allured by their qualities, since then I’ve grown closer to these objects, become familiar with their nature, and learnt to work with their constraints and potential. Having trained in this artisan world of lithography, now inscribed into my body is the lingering habit of these practices. And sedimented into my thinking is the abiding presence of lithography stone. Material substrate, technical instrument, collaborator, and site where tentative lines of thought meet the flow and resistance of corporeality, the nature of lithography stone continues to shape my drawing practice, as both a device that facilitates acts of inscription, and a cusp on which my body and its memory perform and materialize language. Interfolded with my human agency and inflecting the forms it creates are the material and temporal dimensions of this raw matter, its capacity to capture both the indexical movements of a tracing hand, and the imagined presence of less tangible worlds.[2]

This language is likewise generated by the mutual agencies of a thinking body and lithography stone; and by way of preparing the stone for drawing, I hope to share with you something of this complex relationship between a body moving through time, and a limestone matrix. Underwriting these thoughts is a view grounded by Elizabeth Grosz’s description of art as ‘always the coupling of extracted elements from the cosmological order and their integration into the lived experience and behavior of organisms’.[3]  My intention here is to explore this transformative coupling of geological matter and lived experience through its temporal, environmental, inter-personal, and physical affects. Assembled to illuminate this task is a collection of observations that consider aspects of lithography stone as geological trace, material, technology, and artefact. Inscribed into these pieces of sedimented matter are both complex narratives yet to be written and enduring encounters erased in the telling.  And, like the stones themselves, this story too is a fragment, a singular glimpse of a longer tale: one that cannot be recounted in its entirety but is witnessed as discrete moments from an accumulation of memories; a temporal duration re-encountered in ‘partial views’ of scenes and events that now distill their elements into narratives brought into being through the interstices of written text.[4]  At play here: the virtuality of duration, its tangible accomplice inscription, and the substrate of lithography stone, in an operation that brings together worlds of geology, autobiography, technology, and writing.

Threaded through this observation of encounters between cosmological residue, human hands, and material agency, are the words of philosopher and feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz and vital materialist thinker Jane Bennett. Inhabiting their voices is the legacy from Henri Bergson’s post-Darwinian thinking on time and the evolutionary forces of life.  Grosz’s development of Bergson’s ideas lends concepts to my reflections and allows me to think of lithography stones in several ways: excavated and transformed into printing matrices, they are framed pieces of the world, brought from the landscapes of matter into the complex territories of language and culture, that in the hands of lithographers become sites of rhythmic contact and ‘durational entwinement’ between living body and enduring matter.[5]  Cut from successions of sedimentary formation, they are static fragments divided out from the temporal flow of matter that bring their past lives into contact with the present moment.[6]  And thus, as sites of perceptual encounter that straddle the virtual past and the unfolding present, they are both substrates for acts of inscription, and thresholds between intersecting worlds and intersecting chronologies.[7]

Whilst my aim is to give you some intimation of a complex relationship between two material bodies, our protagonist and object of attention for the next few pages, is the stones themselves. Lingering in the background of these reflections is a proposition raised by Henri Bergson in his introduction to Creative Evolution that asks: ‘If the intellectual form of the living being has been gradually modelled on the reciprocal actions and reactions of certain bodies and their material environment, how should it not reveal to us something of the very essence of which these bodies are made?’.[8]  In response, Jane Bennett in Vibrant Matter lingers with scrutiny on these bodily relations and their material environments, and puts forward a view that pays more sensitive attention to the liveliness of the nonhuman bodies. Endowing matter with a critical agency, she releases it from instrumental servitude to re-set the balance of these relations, and suggests alternatively that ‘in the long and slow time of evolution […] mineral material appears as the mover and the shaker, the active power, and […] human beings, with their much-lauded capacity for self-directed action, appear as its product’.[9]

Serena Smith, Sedimenting Limestone 1

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2.  Before attempting to grind the stone, first examine the surface for the following possible faults in its structure: large deposits of iron salts (usually brown in colour) and other crystalline substances and all-over chalky textures (usually of a lighter colour than the stone itself).  Such faults may affect an image, although some stones contain fine black fault lines which are harmless.[10]

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Sediment

Glimpses of the ways in which these slabs of prehistoric time made their way into the studios of printers and artists can be seen in a black and white film of the Solnhofen Plattenkalk.[11]  The handheld footage begins by silently panning the landscape, to show a town of white stone buildings clustered alongside a plain banked by the low rise of promontories. In bright sunshine the camera slowly takes in cliff faces. Surveying these vertiginous towers, its flickering grain captures shadows cast by exposed and eroded limestone strata before tilting down into the territory of the opencast mine. Here, framed by the camera is makeshift scaffolding comprised of a network of snaking wooden pathways that partially enclose the site and mark the zone of the miners’ activity. Sturdy enough for hand carts, and in parts laid with a narrow-gauge track, this moveable architecture is suspended between footholds and crevices in the rock. In places, the balanced planks of these walkways follow the contours of dry-stone walling, painstakingly constructed to cover the crumbling edifices. In the basin of the mine, beneath the exposed shelves of this precarious structure, lies the shattered earthen residue left by the cleaving edges of picks, hammers, and crowbars.  Written into these lower reaches of the aging facades is the history of lives shaped by these rocks, left behind in evidence an uneven territory broken and re-configured by the arduous labour of miners. 

Calibrating the rise of the cliffs are chronological planes of succession. Horizontal divisions that mark repeated cycles of sedimentation, evaporation, and hardening, of pools of silt, a rhythmic sequence replayed over millions of years. The outcome, a rock formation; a topographical accumulation of layers of bedrock, a compacted stack of sedimented time. Each individual bed denoting a span, and each the singular record of a unique microclimate in its final moment of distillation. These are origins imagined and re-told through the narratives of geology, a discipline that categorises and names these dusty residues. And a practice, under the analysis of Kathryn Yusoff, that thinks and operates through a grammar that stratifies planetary sediment, enabling matter to be regulated, mastered, dislocated, and mobilised within economies of extraction. Captured by this process are bodies and matter, in relations that entwine their coupled material as both mineral resources and indices of value.[12]In this cinematic experience, as with my recollections, encounters with these past events are glimpsed through captured moments; they are virtual memories transformed into sequential legibility by way of a narrative device. The slow evaporation of silt, the flickering play of celluloid film, and the inscription of this text: successive, multiple, and diverse environments. Disparate parts of a continuum that might evoke time’s virtual flow not as ‘homogeneous, smooth, or linear’, but akin to the stutters and surges of Jurassic temporality that shaped the stratified cliffs.  An arc of time that left in its wake not a seamless cloak of divisible matter, but an eroding landscape of creases, fissures, and ‘spreading cracks’; an unfolding and irregular duration described by Elizabeth Grosz as ‘a mode of “hesitation”, bifurcation … or emergence’.[13]

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3. Check with calipers that the stone is equally thick at all four corners. Check with a steel rule for lateral and transverse hollowness, placing the edge of the rule down the middle of the stone and putting a small piece of tissue paper between it and the stone. If the paper can be moved easily under the rule, then there is a hollow.  If the paper is held fast the stone is flat.[14]  

Temperament

Undocumented by the monochrome footage are the variations in the seams of deposit, and the distinct patination of each quarried layer. Left by disparities in the mineral composition were rich palettes of colour, denser in tonality in the lower beds. Compressed by gravitational force, these deepest levels yielded heavy blue stone, whereas from the upper ledges came a friable, chalky substrate.  Extracted from the levels in between, a spectrum of fine-grained stones more suitable for lithography, ranging in hue from dark grey to pale yellow. My own small stack gathered over time is likewise of variable nature. Some worn thin with use, others misshapen fragments from larger stones, each one distinct in dimension, texture, and pigmentation. This inconsistency, however, is not superficial.  Lingering from their nascent microclimates is an accumulation of small differences that affect each stone’s response to the lithographic process. Far from being voiceless substrates, two stones drawn, processed, and printed identically, will produce two significantly different sheets of printed information.  In the mute ecology of these objects there is a willful deviancy, a reverberating echo that tacitly appears in printed lithographs as noise.[15]  The unstable contingency of each stone’s mineral make-up, giving the potential for the stone to talk back, contest its service, and follow a natural desire for conchoidal fracture under the geared mechanics of a printing press.  A mutant capacity for a ‘nonhuman vitality’ celebrated by Jane Bennett, that is not always in tune with technology’s pursuit for a predictable and more biddable accomplice.[16]

Material Culture

Perhaps we might think of these ‘slices of the world’ not as blank matrices, but as a collection of found photographs.  Glimpsed on their time-worn faces, the speculative hints of imagined pasts, and the indexical imprints of data. A patina that indivisibly fuses so-called ‘clouds of fantasy and pellets of information’.[17]  Photographs however, it has also been said, are easily taken, the small gestures of hand and eye, having only tenuous knowledge of what they record.[18]  Cutting to a scene of action in the film might tell us more about the not so easily acquired knowledge and skills needed to quarry this material. With heads bowed, a row of four men stand on the dusty floor of the mine, in tacit syncopation swinging their mallets against bolsters wedged between two layers of the stratified rock.[19]  A second line of quarriers in the next frame, hands grasping the slender poles of pickaxes, again move in time to dislodge the limestone bed, before one breaks out of formation to gently tap the floor, loosening the dense shelf from softer mudstone beneath. Scrolling forward to the finishing room, each slab selected for lithography is inspected, cut to size, and its edges dressed by hand with a bushing hammer.  Whilst in abundance, when the recording was made, the methods needed to extract this fragile and valuable resource from its natural habitat were necessarily laborious. 

Serena Smith, Sedimenting Limestone 2

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4. Wash off old ink with a mixture of 5 drops of carbolic acid to 30cc of turps substitute, so that when grinding commences the stone is free of old ink, then remove old gum Arabic with warm water.[20]

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These were tasks that demanded the meticulous attention of bodies intimately attuned to the resonant character of the material, bodies that could intuitively control the velocity of a cleaving mallet, ears that could hear changes in the timbre of a stone splitting from bedrock, lungs that could tolerate the rising powder of rock dust in baking sun. Hands shaped and callused by daily labour, corporeal ‘instruments of sonorous expression’ that could feel without measure the level of a stone.[21]  And, ‘attuned to the complex interplay of a rock’s colour and texture’, eyes that could detect small variations, such as those that first encountered the reptilian teeth and avian tail feathers of Darwin’s missing link, the Archaeopteryx, the contours of its body documented in exquisite detail by particles of chemically precipitated calcium carbonate.[22]

            Part bird, part dinosaur, one such specimen of this iconic creature resides in the Natural History museum in London. Now perhaps understood as pivotal evidence of transitional change between species over time, when this curious hybrid first appeared in 1861, speculative discussion on the historical development of form was lively in the field of comparative anatomy. Contemporaneous to this scientific debate, in the light of the publication of Senefelder’s technical handbook on lithography in 1796, stone was in demand in the print industry leading to industrious excavation of the Solnhofen quarries. An ecology of extraction that dynamically affected both the pace of print technology, and research on evolution.[23]  

            It was in the serendipitous encounter between these two worlds that Archaeopteryx Lithographicacame into the light, the fragile barbs and filaments of its feathers, clawed fingers, and bony tail indivisibly imprinted into lithified silt, the fleeting moment of its death giving substance to Charles Darwin’s published claim to the theory of natural selection, and the proposition that at the core of all life are complex relations that bring about gradual processes of becoming. These radical theories were subsequently formative for Henri Bergson’s coupling of the nascent forces of evolution to consciousness, time, and the vital impetus of life, Elizabeth Grosz’s philosophical expansions of the transformative material and virtual forces of becoming, and Jane Bennett’s ecologies of vibrant matter: ecologies she describes as confederations of people and things, groupings of diverse elements, and assemblages, such as the environments of stone lithography, and the disparate marriage of prehistoric bird and evaporating silt. 

            In truth however, it was not the complete skeletonized fossil of a flighted creature that was first named Archaeopteryx, but a single feather unearthed in 1860, the arrival of its pigmented shadow in the sedimented limestone adding complexity to discussions on the genealogy of avian creatures and contributing to sustained speculation on the plumage of dinosaurs. Perhaps in the words of Jane Bennett our falling feather in its chance immersion might be understood, through ‘fortuity of being in the right place at the right time’, as the actant that ‘makes things happen, becomes the decisive force catalysing an event’.[24]

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5. Distribute evenly a layer of 60s graining sand or carborundum powder.  Sprinkle water over the stone and mix the two together, spreading the mixture evenly over the surface. Take a stone of a similar size, place on top of the first stone, printing surface to printing surface.  Commence grinding, moving the top stone in the shape of a horizontal figure of eight. Grind with an even movement, renewing sand and water as required.[25]

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Climate

Such finds are, however, rare.  And at first glance the large stone I have maneuvered into the graining sink ready to be prepared, appears to be clean with few visible blemishes ­– this smooth regularity an outcome of millennia of diagenesis that gradually transformed the warm Jurassic slurry into stone that could be finished to resemble the fine tooth of a sheet of undrawn velum.  The even composition, geologists’ observations suggest, is due to the hypoxic salinity of these chemical baths, environments that inhibited the potential for organic survival.  Without the disturbance of tides, only unsuspecting animal life, debris from occasional flooding, or windblown drift, might by chance have stirred up clouds of silt in the tranquil lagoons. 

When flushed with water the pale grey stone darkens, and what becomes easier to detect are clues to what lies below.  Revealed by wetting the surface: a distinct red stain of iron deposit, the peppering of a rash of dark spots, and streaking through the grey, a wave of warmer pigment. Veining the grey limestone are linear tracks of silica, one of which traces a disjuncture in the primary formation; a fault line along which the stone might suddenly break as it wears thinner with use.  Caught in freeze frame by this imprint from shifting sands in deep geological time, ‘the flickers of an unwritten past’, a captured moment in the stone’s ontogenesis.[26]  Compressed into this dormant material, and discretely witnessed by these interruptions in the homogeneity of its fabric, the sedimented history of a virtual past.[27]  And the potential for events yet to unfold.

Serena Smith, Sedimenting Limestone 3

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6. After grinding for twenty or thirty minutes, take a piece of cloth soaked in turpentine and rub it in black printing ink until the rag is well coated.  Moisten stone with water and rub the cloth vigorously over the stone.  If the old image still persists it will pick up the ink.  If you are satisfied that it has been removed, wash the stone clear first with turps substitute and then with water.[28]  

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In the presence of a lithography stone in the graining sink, atmospheric conditions are noticeable. Sensitive to environmental change, they have temperatures that can be taken.[29]  In dry climates, humidity caught from the breath will instantly show, then quickly evaporate from the dehydrated surface. Correspondingly, if left stacked against a damp basement wall, moisture readily migrates into the hydrophilic stones, increasing their weight. In the hands of artists these things matter. Every particle of grease from a tusche drawing made in the summer will be willingly absorbed, but in winter damp stones might struggle to notice these water borne traces. The stones’ behavior is not just determined by primary formation, but also by subsequent place of use. Solnhofen stones shipped to far corners of the globe might react very differently to those remaining at home in German printmaking studios. Like all good travelers, lithography stones quickly acclimatize to new environments, although the methods and knowledge sought out in anticipation of their arrival, may take time to translate; novice lithographers in sub-tropical climates, following to the letter tried and tested handbooks written under the heat of a desert sun, might encounter reluctance from the stone to respond accordingly. 

Technology

Having only recently arrived in my studio, in good light the stone now reveals a horizontal seam along its pock-dimpled edges, indicating that it was ‘kidded’ from two thinner stones cemented back-to-back to give sufficient thickness. Also showing up within the patination of sediment is a pale shadow of grease, the adumbrated specter of a previous image that might print if not completely removed. These overlapping traces locate this stone on a cusp between intersecting worlds. Simultaneously a shard of geological formation, and a fragment of material culture, it is mineral deposit, extracted, measured, and manipulated; both a slice of relatively stableevolutionary matter, and a matrix for printing, its nature put to work for a life of invention.[30]  In today’s digital print environment, this stone might seem an anachronistic artefact, a ghost from the past. There is, however, a pleasing reverberation in the abiding presence of lithography stones.  Quarried to meet a constant demand for use in the 19th century print industry, these laboriously finished pieces of stratified rock are now also the record of moments past in the unfolding events of technological succession; still frames from a sequence of advancing mechanization. Cut loose from the perpetual speed of these events, lithography stones now stored against the walls of printmaking studios are silent glimpses of a world that communicated in slower time; sedimented texts that tenaciously hold the making of language to its material origins.

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7. Bevel the sharp edges of the stone with a file or an electrical belt sander.  This prevents damage to the inking roller; ridging of the printing paper; denting the tympan; the attraction of ink to the edges during printing.[31]

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It is with these things in mind that I reflect on, and write about, the preparation of this stone for drawing, anticipating the feel of its surface as it takes the warmth from my hand, its satisfying resistance to the lead of a pencil, the reassuring weight of its stability, and its patient insistence on slowness. At play here two matrices, one a slice of the earth’s crust, the other the illuminated pixels of a liquid-crystal screen; framed landscapes of matter brought into the territories of language.[32] Instruments of communication on a continuum that spans the distance between stone lithography as a more or less stable expression of chaos, and the calculable and measurable spaces of digital pixels.[33]  Shaping the chronological ground between was a drive to develop more efficient systems for sharing information. The weighty demands of limestone, unable to keep pace with a desire for flawless repeatable information, were swiftly replaced by the lightweight speed of offset plates and the digital highways of virtual communication: technologies more inclined to remove laborious obstacles from the cursive flow of text. 

Noise 

Attendant with the receptivity of the freshly grained stone to record in exquisite detail the finest hairline serif from copperplate script is its willingness to capture with fidelity, debris from drawing materials, fingerprints, and lingering traces from past use. In the intimate contact between the porous surface and the soft flesh of a resting hand, there is always a potential for unintended traces of grease to be deposited – by-products from the physical process of drawing that might later print as superfluous information.  This is not to suggest that the receptive nature of the stone cannot be tamed; there are chemicals and abrasives that can be used, and lithography is a system constituted to control the variability of the materials.[34] Ambiguous shadows, and overspill in the margins, can be removed; enigmatic blemishes that obscure legibility, can be erased; serendipitous imprints from windblown drift settling on the surface can be diminished. And to sharpen the brittle clarity of lines of text, tonal contrast can be increased. 

So, too, is it sometimes possible to mute infiltrating disturbance to the syntax of the drawing, from rashes and tracks in the lithified deposit that gradually emerge during printing. Tolerable noise or unwelcome disruption, this visible interference from variabilities in the sediment, signals the ‘persistent presence of energies that confound […] from within’.[35]  Reminding the artist that prepared lithography stone is not a sheet of undrawn paper, but a collaborator with agency, an actant in an assemblage.[36] As the scribing hand pushes, drags, and sweeps its way around the rectangular plane, abraded grease is taken in, that the stone will later play back as printed information. But also lingering beneath this deceptively still surface is the latent capacity for other impulsive forces to resonate.  For within the Jurassic template is a sensitivity that will notice these vagrant interruptions to the homogeneity of its fabric. In suspended animation, this particulate matter from the geological time trap rises up from the dense interior when the stone is re-grained, bringing with it a nascent potential to speak.[37]  Embedded in this seemingly static depth is the active power of mineral life, transient material, with a readiness to harness its intentions to the sensorial movements of corporeality.[38]  

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8. The coarse grain left by grinding is normally too rough; so remove it with snake stone (which is a trimmed block of volcanic rock), rubbing it edgeways on the moistened stone to produce a smooth surface.  Continue thus for about fifteen minutes, again making sure that the whole surface is worked evenly.  Sprinkle with more water occasionally.  The result should be a completely smooth surface. Beware of stray abrasive particles. They can scratch the surface deeply at this stage.[39]  

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Points of Contact

Pressed together, this contact point between skin and stone is an entwinement of agencies, a partnership that creates from its coupled entities an assemblage. Cosmological residue and print technology, feather and silt, bodies and bushing hammers, light sensitive film and projector, liquid tusche and lithography stone, inscribing device and artist’s hands, words and narrator; assemblages of diverse materialities that operate in dynamic cohesion.  But whilst disparate, the elements in these assemblages share a unity of substance made common to all matter by Spinoza’s conatus; a unifying will, endowing material bodies with a persistent energy that Jane Bennett calls ‘thing-power’.[40]  In the small world of lithography these porous, slippery, veined, creased, callused, flaking, hesitant, stuttering, and affective bodies mingle in antagonistic and cohesive relations.[41]  Intimate partnerships in which small differences in silt formation can become audible; differences that might by chance manifest as indexical traces that interrupt and coalesce with the graphic inflections of a scribing hand. Left in evidence of this coupling between entities, indivisible ‘clouds of fantasy and pellets of information’, printed on paper with a layer of ink that makes no distinction between the two.[42]

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9.  When the polished surface is thoroughly satisfactory the final grain may be considered.  This stage is important as the grain will considerably influence the drawing which is put onto it.  Here experience is needed.  For normal working, a grain of between 10 and 180s mesh is used.  A medium grain which will serve for most work can be got with 100s sand (or carborundum).[43]

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Acts of Inscription

Amongst my small accumulation there are a few large lithography stones that were dug up from a back garden some years ago. Pitted and chipped from the trauma of burial and acidic soil, they hadn’t aged well. It also became clear when the mud and dust had been washed off, that unlike the fine grey texture of the stone now in the graining sink, these were heavily laden with chalk and other sedimented irregularities.  Quarried from the upper layers of rock formation, not suitable for fine tonal work, too flawed for my use, and possibly not from Solnhofen.  However, in spite of their inferior quality, legible on the surfaces are the anonymous remains of hand drawn layout pages for an ironmonger’s catalogue, meticulously drawn fixtures and fittings for the Edwardian home, glimpsed in residues of ink and broken text clinging to the eroded grain. Locks, clasps, hinges, doorplates, washers, and screws; intricately rendered sight size images in standard imperial measure, their crisp outlines now broken tracks across a weathered landscape. Documented in these crumbling edifices are events that span suburban entombment, the calibrations of antique engineering, and the flooding of silting residue: successive moments now witnessed in static simultaneity, as fragmented inscriptions and shadows cast by the exposed and eroded limestone.  Intersecting worlds and intersecting chronologies that now converge within the matted felt of a palimpsest.[44]  

For a while these elderly stones have been stored leaning against the studio wall. No longer in use and now subject only to the reclaiming grasp of ‘time’s relentless melt’, their fragile skins and aging fabric passing through time at a pace of change invisible to my fleeting perception.[45]  Relics of ages past, inscribed into their surfaces and embedded in their interiors is the material evidence from events that span Jurassic storms to steam-powered lithography presses.  Occupying space, these objects and their residual traces, however, are not contained by the limits of their material. But in the light of Grosz’s disruption of the concrete boundaries of spatiality, they are material thresholds that share with duration a virtual dimension. They are objects with the capacity to ignite latent memory, a potential that enables present perception to ‘straddle past and present’, take a ‘leap into virtuality’and activate from sites of matter, an emergent and unfolding mobility.[46]  As such these pieces of framed matter are territories that open out to other worlds, grounded substrates that couple their agency to the speculative inscriptions of ‘language in the making’, and sedimented texts around which cluster the memories of deep time storytellers.[47]

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10. When a decision has been taken take a small piece of litho stone, small enough to fit the palm of the hand, or alternatively a glass muller. Sprinkle the polished stone evenly with fine grain abrasive and a little water. With small circular movements from left to right, grind without a heavy pressure until the whole surface has been covered.  Continue for about fifteen minutes, renewing water as required.[48]

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Something of a makeshift arrangement, my graining sink is a plastic garden trough with batons of wood stacked to support a stone at the right height, drilled into the base a small hole that allows water to escape into a bucket below. Weighing seventy-three kilos and slightly too long for the trough, it has been tricky to maneuver this stone into position and another smaller tray is needed to catch the overspill.  Now ready to be grained, dusted with pumice and grit its wet surface gives rise to a humidity that brushes against my cheeks and cools the skin beneath my eyes; released into the air a smell of damp stone that takes me into the salty undercliff shade of a receding tide, along streets drenched by summer rain, past building sites, and down a flight of stairs leading to a basement studio. Slipping and hesitating over the sharp grit, the small top stone begins to move, and in moments the room is filled with a hollow grating resonance, a noise that gradually mutes into the fricative wash of sand dragged by a current, a timbre that changes each time the circular movement rides over the stone’s edge. And as the grit and limestone bind into a paste, and circular pattern settles to a tempo in cadence with the shifts in my balance from foot to foot, the stone’s dense matter and sedimented time give way to the rotating rhythm of sand and water, gathering in the basin beneath a cloudy slurry of water and limestone particles.[49]

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11. To check the quality of grain, rub the surface on different parts of the stone with a hard pencil of conte crayon.  If the grain is uneven your drawing will be imperfect. Check once again for scratch marks.  Make sure that no powdered limestone is left in the crevices by liberally washing the surface with a mixture of 5ccs acetic acid and 200ccs of water.  Finally the stone may be rinsed with water after about five minutes and allowed to dry.[50]


[1] Stanley Jones, Lithography for Artists (London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 20.

[2] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 31.

[3] Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2008), p. 45.

[4] Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. A. Mitchel (London: Macmillan & Co., 1911), pp. 3-4, 32.

[5] Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 17; Elizabeth Grosz, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 5.

[6] Bergson; Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture from the Outside (Massachusetts: MIT, 2001), p. 122.

[7] Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, p. 121.

[8] Bergson, p. xi.

[9] Bennett, p. 11.

[10] Jones, p. 31.

[11] H. Schonger, (n.d.). Lithographen Schiefer Solhhofen Germany Limestone Quarry & use of Limestone in Lithography 74872(Germany: http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com).

[12] Kathryn Yusoff, Geologies of Race: Unearthing the Ground of the Human (Weimar: Internationale Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie, 2019), 11:37 <https://vimeo.com/379990947> [accessed 15 June 2020].

[13] Bennett, p. 59.; Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, p. 114.

[14] Jones, p. 31.

[15] ‘noise’ is an unwanted by-product of image-capture devices and refers to signal interference or excess.

[16] Bennett, p. 14. 

[17] Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 69.

[18] Ibid., p. 115.

[19] Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), p. 14.

[20] Jones, p. 31.

[21] Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 55.

[22] Nicholas Chare, ‘Writing Perceptions: The Matter of Words and the Rollright Stones’, in Art History34 (2011), 244-267 (p. 248). 

[23] Alois Senefelder, Friedrich Schlichtegroll, Samuel Prout, Jacques Callot, Rudolph Ackermann, A complete course of lithography: containing clear and explicit instructions in all the different branches and manners of that art: accompanied by illustrative specimens of drawings. To which is prefixed a history of lithography, from its origin to the present time (London: R. Ackermann, 1819).

[24] Bennett, pp. 18, 21, 9. 

[25] Jones, pp. 31-32.

[26] Chare, p. 249.

[27] Grosz, Becoming Undone, p. 32.  

[28] Jones, p. 33.

[29] Chare, p. 247. 

[30] Grosz, Becoming Undone, p. 30.

[31] Jones, p. 33.

[32] Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 17.

[33] Ibid. p. 15. 

[34] Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 29.

[35] Bennett, p. 23.

[36] Bennett, p. 31.

[37] Anne Sauvagnargues, ‘Crystals and Membranes: Individuation and Temporality’, in Gilbert Simondon, Being and Technology, ed. by A. De Boever, A. Murray, J. Roffe, & A. Woodward, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), pp. 57–70 (p. 69).

[38] Bennett, p. 11. 

[39] Jones, p. 34.

[40] Ibid., pp. 20, 21.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Sontag, p. 69.

[43] Jones, p. 34.

[44] Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, p. 122.

[45] Sontag, p. 15.

[46] Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, pp. 122, 123. 

[47] Erin Manning, The Minor Gesture (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 25; Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, p. 123.  

[48] Jones, p. 34.

[49] Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 19.

[50] Jones, p. 34.

*I acknowledge the ongoing support and feedback on this article from my supervisory team, Marsha Maskimmon and Deborah Harty.

Authors