There are some pretty iconic works of art in the Big Bend. In Valentine, There’s Prada Marfa. In Marfa proper, there are Donald Judd’s renowned works. And now, just outside of the far West Texas town, you’ll find a new piece of work.
Right before dusk turns to night, the West Texas landscape comes to life.
Grasshoppers, owls, all creatures of the night make their presence known. But here, just outside of Marfa, a new sound is echoing across the plains.
Every month, a show of lights and electronic music are timed to bring a new art installation — a collection of nine giant slabs of black marble — to life under a full moon.
Its name: Stone Circle.
The electronic music — harsh and deep modulated beeps — are all part of the show.
“It is the sound of electricity, it’s electronic music in its most basic form,” says Haroon Mirza, the internationally acclaimed artist behind Stone Circle.
The sculpture’s nine stones have been arranged in the tradition of other mysterious prehistoric monuments, like England’s Stonehenge. The only difference is these rocks are solar-powered and each month they slowly charge under the West Texas sun. It’s what powers the monthly light and sound display.
“Oh my goodness, it just reminds me almost of 2001,” chuckles Mary Alvarado-Cloud, who’s comparing Mirza’s tech-stone sculptures to the opening scene from Stanley Kubrick’s seminal film.
But 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t take place at an art opening.
Big Bend area residents like Alvarado-Cloud and Frank Berkana aren’t exactly phased by the presence of these alien stones that pulsate blue, red, and green light across the surrounding ranch land. This is Marfa after all.
“You know it’s just an interesting thing to do on a Wednesday evening,” laughs Berkana.
The stone sculpture is a semi-permanent display. It will be in the desert landscape for at least the next 5 years.
Mirza had each stone, which weighs several tons, hauled in from Mexico. Then, each piece was carved to make space for LED lights and speakers into each of the rocks.
Mirza says he hopes people forge their own relationships with the sculpture, whether it becomes a meditative space or place where people just hang out. Mirza wants to keep in the spirit of the mystery that surrounds other stone circles across the world.
“It’s not up to me to judge or prescribe,” said Mirza in an interview with Marfa Public Radio in April. “It can be whatever it needs to be. And I think that’s what these monuments sort of represent.
But 5 months ago, the stone circle wasn’t representing much of anything.
That’s when the sculpture’s first solar-powered symphony was supposed to happen. But on opening night, under a full moon, nothing. It didn’t work. Intense rains ruined the system that makes the lights and music happen.
“You know there’s no template for making a giant stone circle in the middle of the desert that’s solar-powered and activated by the moon,” says Laura Copelin.”It’s not like there’s an instruction manual for that.”
Copelin is the director of Ballroom Marfa, the arts organization behind Stone Circle. She says it took months to fix all the structure’s kinks.
“When you do a big project like this, failure is often times part of the process and can be really positive,” says Copelin. “It helped us work out a number of things that have improved just the functioning of the sculpture from here on out.”
If you want to see the stone circle for yourself, you can find it out in the West Texas desert. That’s where it will be for at least the next five years, doing its pulsating desert-dance under the next full moon.