Works > The Desert Has No Surface

Courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla Photo Credit:Lance Gerber
The Desert Has No Surface
Polished Basalt Rock
15 Meters Diameter

Desert X AlUla 2024
In the Presence of Absence
Courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla
Photo Credit:Lance Gerber

The Desert Has No Surface

Caline Aoun's installation, situated amidst the stones of the Black Desert in the Harrat region, features a multitude of basalt volcanic rocks that have been meticulously polished on one side. This act of polishing, expressing care and protection, transforms the stones into temporal rocks that transcend immediate perception. The installation primarily activates through a gleaming effect at different times of the day, specifically when the perfect alignment of the sun, the viewer’s posture and position, and the stone's orientation is achieved.

The work thus privileges the viewer as an embodied participant and only reveals itself within this participatory exchange. The meaning of the work is intricately tied to the observer's experience, surpassing the conventional interface between solid substance and the gaseous medium of air. While the properties of the stone can be touched and understood, Aoun introduces a nuanced layer by emphasising the intangible surface of materiality. This surface, she posits, emerges from a dynamic flux where diverse materials undergo constant transformation.

As the observer bears witness to the refraction of light, physical limits and the tangible surface of the stone vanish, ushering in a moment where the stone, light, air, and viewer coalesce into a singular material entity. From a distance, the stone's surface appears like liquid metal, reminiscent of the original state of lava turned into stone. While these singular moments are ephemeral and contingent on ideal conditions, their transitory nature echoes the impermanence embedded in the hidden generative dynamics of the desert landscape. During less-than-ideal conditions, Aoun's installation seamlessly blends back with the natural elements. This disappearance becomes a metaphor for the impermanence that governs both the installation and the broader desert environment, inviting viewers to navigate the complex interplay between permanence and impermanence, materiality and intangibility, deep geological time, and timelessness in the present moment.