< Back to List

Kristen Mallia

detachment (wall study, no. 01), 2021, Clay, wire, birch, hardware, Courtesy of the Artist.

Visit Kristen Mallia’s website
Instagram: @fireballdelicious

Hear from the Artist



For 3 months in early 2020, I was an artist in residence in Seydisfjordur, Iceland. While there, I became really captivated by the vesicular basalt in the surrounding landscape. Vesicular basalt is a dark volcanic rock that contains these small holes known as vesicles, which are essentially little cavities that form when bubbles of gas expand when trapped inside the lava. While on residency, I began sculpting these rocks in white air drying clay, ultimately creating over 600 of them. 

My work is rooted in ritual, and I am particularly interested in the accumulation and evolution of behavior, content, and form over time, so these initial experiments became just that, a meditation on the rock forms, a reflection on this otherworldly frozen Icelandic landscape and my general sense of self and place within it.

When I returned to Boston, I continued to build the rocks, though my material interests shifted. I started to paint them using India Inks and tracing paper and working incredibly large. So here I was, in my studio, with massive painted rocks hanging in suspension all around me, piles of clay rocks everywhere (at this point, there must be nearly 1000) when suddenly there are tragic mudslides in the very area I was living, working and finding endless inspiration just earlier in the year. I found myself thinking about the amount of trust that all of us had placed in that mountain. The building I was working in was literally right next to the streaming mudslide that swept other buildings into the sea.

As I stood in my studio, surrounded by these rocks forms, I began to feel a shift in my own relationship to them: these rock forms that brought me so much inspiration and joy, that were so important to my current practice, were suddenly responsible for the displacement of an entire fjord village, the loss of livelihoods and the destruction of historic, treasured homes. Then, that following summer, in Miami Florida, a condominium complex crumbled to the ground. The distrust of the fjord’s foundations was suddenly shifting closer to home, from natural structure to human-made, which somehow felt even scarier.

Detachment is a reflection on these thoughts. But it’s also beautiful, too, I think, to examine the forms and wonder: are the rocks falling, or is a rock pile growing. My relationship to the rocks and landscape continues to evolve. This piece is one reflection of that evolution.