There are piles of stones everywhere in Iceland, from massive scree slopes, literally erupted from the earth and sea, cairns built for and by tourists and piece-of-the-rock souvenirs brought home as reminders of travels. In Lanmannalauger, where its too difficult to grow grass at the campsite, there is a box of rocks provided for campers to pin their tents down. SIM residency is adorned with previous resident’s souvenir rocks and concrete, on bookshelves and as door stops. The harbour of Reykjavik is bounded by a stone wall, some of which have been polished smooth as an outdoor sculpture.
Beverly Gordon in her typology of souvenirs has named a category of souvenirs “Piece-of-the-rock souvenirs” which are literally souvenirs that are parts of the whole. They are usually natural material or objects, saved from a natural environment gathered and brought back home to the domestic environment. She writes about their life beyond their natural habitat:
An interesting thing happens to these inherently insignificant hunted and gathered objects when they are taken out of their ordinary environment. A rock sitting on a beach or a brick positioned in a building – in its ordinary context – is just one of many , and barely noteworthy. When it is taken away and brought into a living room setting, however, it becomes transformed into a significant icon. It becomes sacralised in the new context, and is imbued with all the power of the associations made with its original environment (Gordon 1986:141).
I have been making cairns in the studio on top of the Tasmanian souvenir table cloths. Cairns constructed from everyone’s pieces-of-the-rock, bringing the wild indoors and attempting to domesticate the landscape to a manageable scale. I’m constructing tourist markers, a cairn for survival and navigation. They are also a comment on the issues common to both Iceland and Tasmania, that of the sustainability of tourism as this year alone the number of tourists in Iceland has reached a figure that is double the number of inhabitants. An article in the Icelandic Review on the sustainability of tourism reported that “It is also becoming more common for people to build cairns everywhere. These leave scars on the land because people remove rocks from the terrain” (2012:12).
Icelandic Review, Volume 4, 2012, p12
Gordon, Beverly, The Souvenir: Messenger of the Extraordinary, Journal of Popular Culture, 20:3 (1986:Winter) p. 135