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A Very, Very, Very Delicate Balance

These rocks, says the artist, are not glued, not Velcroed. This is not a trick. Go ahead and click through our glossary of photographs. There are big rocks pirouetting on little ones, little ones dangling on top of big ones, pebbles tightly clumped and suspended in air ...

The artist who did this, Michael Grab, is a balancer of rocks. In an interview on Compliment Vices, he describes what happens when he builds these sculptures in front of live audiences, which, apparently, he's done a few times — in Costa Rica, in Italy. Once, at the Boulder Creek Path Festival in Boulder, Colo., a guy came up to him and said, "My brother absolutely does not believe these are balanced like this. He thinks there's bars or glue." He demanded proof that these sculptures were for real.

"Everybody's watching, everybody heard the whole exchange," Michael says. "So I just go up and tap one in the middle and it just collapses. And everyone is like [gasp!] So I just like, get down, start making it again. Make it a tiny bit different."

Case in point, from last July:

But how? How does he do it? First he says, you've got to "know the rocks." I think this is a zen thing. Or maybe a sculptor's thing. On his website, he says he is hyperaware of possible nooks on the rock's surface:

"The most fundamental element of balancing in a physical sense is finding some kind of 'tripod' for the rock to stand on. Every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks. By paying close attention to the feeling of the rocks, you will start to feel even the smallest clicks as the notches of the rocks in contact are moving over one another."

After that, he says he has to "find a zero point, or silence within myself." I'm not sure what that means, but it's my sense that the man's got great hands, hands that can feel the exact weight of a stone and a mind that can concentrate, and somehow get inside these stones, and, as he puts it, "Become the balance." I think Michael, when he does this, crosses the line between animal and mineral. For a brief time, he is what he builds.

If you want to see the crazy things Mr. Grab can do, look here. As it happens, our Radiolab podcast this week is also a meditation on stones. We kick ours. (In order to find out what — deep, deep down — rocks are made of. Not atoms, not protons, electrons, not quarks, says our guest writer, Jim Holt. He thinks rocks are made of "math." We then throw things at each other. You might want to listen.)

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