As pioneer of the European Stone Stacking Championships, James Craig Page has overseen a revolution of artistic endeavour on Scotland’s beaches. He tells Brian Donaldson about the benefi ts of this pursuit and hits back at critics who view his passion as destructive P H O T O

: L A U R E N C E W N R A M


Y ou could call it a towering achievement. At last year’s European Stone Stacking Championships in Dunbar, a man called SP Ranza created a structure in which he balanced 42 stones in 30 minutes, creating an eye-

popping if temporary artwork and a brand new world record in the process.

James Craig Page, the man behind this tournament, will hope for similar feats of balance at the 2020 event which is once again in collaboration with the Edinburgh Science Festival. As he points out, there are different aspects to the competition. ‘We have three different categories: there’s the time balance where you have three minutes to balance seven stones that are selected by the judges. We also have the most stones balanced one on top of each other vertically which goes under the name of the quantity event, and we have the main artistic competition which is two and a half hours to create whatever you can from found materials on the beach.’

The total points are added up and the overall winner will head off to the next LEAF (Llano Earth Art Fest) in Texas. But while competition gives stone stacking an added edge, it’s ultimately about the pursuit of your own individual attainment. ‘For stone balancing, the beaches in Scotland, and particularly in Dunbar and around East Lothian, are perfect as there’s such a variety of rocks and materials to work with that you just don’t get in other countries. It becomes a challenge to yourself, and you’re always pushing to ne-tune the next balance, which teaches you a lot about yourself.’ It might come as a shock, but this practice, described on Page’s website as ‘a meditative artistic skill’ which ‘uses nothing more than the natural gravitational pull of the Earth’, was dubbed in 2018 as a threat to our planet. In The Guardian’s Endangered Habits series, an article condemning this ‘adventure tourism’ was entitled ‘Cool for Instagram, cruel for the environment’, claiming that stone stacking had become ‘a plague on the natural world’.

As you’d imagine, Page has no time for that kind of opinion. ‘We as artists and people who love nature are all about looking after nature and respecting the beaches where we go. We’re always picking up litter after us and making sure the beaches are in as good a condition as possible. We’re all about conservation, looking after the planet and encouraging people to do the same and enjoy nature while doing that.’ For those who are of the same worldview, a hook-up between the Edinburgh Science Festival and the stone-stacking community will be a delight for the senses. ‘They approached us, because they wanted to bring the arts and sciences together, and we made a perfect t. We have competitors from Switzerland, Germany, Egypt and America already signed up so it should be a good competition.’

European Stone Stacking Championships, postponed until Sep due to COVID-19 virus.

22 THE LIST 1 Apr–31 May 2020