Just a Pile of Stones Pfft


Just a pile of stones pfft …

“What sort of sculpture is that?” I arrogantly thought to myself and walked on unimpressed. But I carried those stones back to NZ with me – figuratively of course. (Can you imagine me getting them through our customs?!) They rattled around inside me, weighed me down until I could ignore their noise no longer and had to dig a little deeper for understanding.

Let me back track and put this in context though……..

It was the final day of my overseas trip and friends had taken me to the NIROX sculpture exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa. This exquisite garden is positioned on a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its collection of prehistoric hominid and animal fossils.


A person can wander through, leave and say “that was a nice outing” (sometimes it is simply right and refreshing to do so) or they could leave knowing that …

… a part of their insides have been prised open to expose something of themselves – a blind spot to be challenged.


Anaïs Nin said, “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as WE are.”

I got to wondering what the background was behind the stone sculpture (which I did not photograph) and with a little research discovered:

  • Whitney McVeigh, a well respected International artist, was in residence at this time which gave her daily access to the gardens.
  • Her work explores personal history, through the collecting of objects, and collective memory .
  • In her contribution to the exhibition theme of ‘Not a Single Story’ Whitney McVeigh has collected, and piled on top of one another, 18,088 stones each carefully counted to represent the number of days from the artist’s birth to the present day.
  • This sculpture is a measuring of time. The stones reference centuries of history.
  • The installation is a metaphor for the thousands of stories we carry within that make up individual lives.

I wouldn’t choose this stone sculpture for my garden but now I can appreciate, with respect, how quietly it blends into the landscape.

Only a tiny part of the site is modified to leave the artist’s unique mark without adding anything to, or taking anything away from, this precious Heritage site. That is simple and profound.

‘Failing to explore the work of other photographers/artists because you “don’t like them” is not only failing to develop your taste, it’s failing to let yourself and your work grow.’ David duChemin

(P.S. I haven’t yet identified the installation or artist of my top photo – will update with an acknowledgement when I find out)

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