On the 27th August 2001 we published an article about a mysterious phenomenon that had come that summer to one small stream in the Garfagnana, Italy – stone balancing. Twelve years later and is if by miracle the stones are back and this time not just standing stones but also mini sculptures, fountains, pools and even some wooden furniture.
Strange figure-like constructions stand guard, immobile, along a rushing stream near the Tuscan hill-top town of Barga. Some appear to be in an almost human form, others are like birds. What makes them unusual is that nothing holds these towers of stones together except gravity. No cement. No glue. Not even a small pile of sand comes between the naked stones,one piled upon another. Improbable feats of balance, one long pearl-shaped stone stands – upside down as it were – on another. Three on top of each other here. Four there. Five. All suspended, as if for eternity. But the reality is much more fragile: the most minuscule change can send them all toppling back into the stream. A strong breeze, the merest touch, a failed attempt to add another to the already unlikely construction and the work is destroyed.
One large slab of rock has several egg-shaped stones of various sizes all precariously perched along its ridge – and some others cling to one of its sides, which looks easier to achieve – until you try to add to it yourself. Long lozenges of rock balanced on a tip have had smaller rounder stones balanced on their tops, giving them almost the appearance of human figures. In places three or four are clustered together in small family groups. You are irresistibly reminded of the stone heads of Easter Island, or the creations of Brancusi, or Epstein or Barbara Hepworth or Henry Moore – isolated, impenetrable, silent.
And who is doing all this work? No-one knows.
It appears it was started some weeks ago by a local resident who lives nearby, but then others who have happened upon this somewhat remote spot have continued the installation, and now more of these statue-like constructions stand along a hundred-metre stretch of the stream. Almost everyone who comes seems to want to add to this exhibition, with however small a contribution.
One of those who has added to the creation of this free art gallery talked about the experience.
“It is almost mystical,” he said, “to feel a sudden realisation of an improbable equilibrium.The most unexpected alliances can be achieved, and as you gently move the stone on top you can somehow sense whether the two can make a happy alliance. You try one way, then another, you feel it might just be possible, then the most tiny of adjustments and it suddenly locks into place. You begin to set fresh challenges for yourself, and look for bigger and more improbable stones to try and balance on top of others.
“The whole thing is so ephemeral, and yet is has an appearance of permanence. Sometimes the equilibrium is so fine that if it has been achieved when one of the stones has still been wet from the stream, it can be lost as the sun dries out the stone, and you hear one that ten minutes ago was standing quite firm suddenly tumble into the water again”
The only thing for certain is that this unique display is transitory. The wind and the water will soon take away all this work.
A salute, therefore, to all those who unselfishly and anonymously have given their time and the creative effort into creating a park of spontaneous free-standing sculpture in this secret place that will pass, with summer, into only a fond memory