Haroon Mirza grew up in England, where Stonehenge and other ancient stone circles and megaliths are a familiar part of the landscape. However, his work is futuristic and multimedia-based. “My medium is electricity,” says Mirza, who takes this natural phenomenon and makes it audible and visual. Last year he was awarded an artist residency in Geneva through Arts at CERN, which is committed to creating dialogue between artists and particle physicists.
Mirza recalls how the massive cooling towers of the Large Hadron Collider, a monument to modern technology, rise dramatically above the landscape. He imagined those structures still standing thousands of years from now, abandoned relics that could be as mysterious to future generations as Stonehenge is to us today – impressive technological feats for their age, but whose purpose is lost to history.
In stone circle, modern technology and ancient materials combine to create a reflection on energy in all its forms. For example, the geological process that created the marble required millions of years of heat and pressure. Significant human and mechanical resources, not to mention actual fuel powering the trucks, went into transporting those stones from Mexico to Marfa. The solar and battery powered electricity that creates the sound and light performance each month is another facet to the project. Even the scheduling of that performance to align with the lunar calendar was intentional, a nod to the moon’s tidal effect (another form of energy).
It was modeled after Nine Ladies in Yorkshire, which also has nine boulders in a circle with a large “mother stone” that sits outside the circle. The modern artwork is unique in two key ways.
First, stone circle has solar panels installed on the mother stone, which charge batteries that power a monthly sound and light show, programmed to display a half hour after the sun sets on each full moon. Using solar PV panels “gives you an unmediated channel from the sun to electricity,” says Mirza.
Second, the massive black marble stones used in the sculpture were shaped and transported using modern tools and techniques, but in some ways seem as mysterious as in ancient times. Neither Mirza nor the rest of the team had never worked with such large-scale materials. That turned the creative process into a community effort.
Mirza and the Ballroom Marfa team acknowledge that it took a village to create stone circle. Matt Grant coordinated all of the project details from Marfa, Stephen “Chick” Rabourn helped design the stones working with the artisans in Mexico and got them moved to Texas, Freedom Solar designed and installed the solar and battery system from Austin, and in the end the entire community got energized around the possibilities of solar power in their community.