Ro Robertson: Stone (Butch)

Ro Robertson’s Stone (Butch) (2021) is part of a body of works exploring the terrain of the queer body in the landscape and was created by plaster casting directly in crevices in natural rock formations at Godrevy Point (St Ives Bay, Cornwall).

The shape of the sculpture resembles a body in movement, while the textures evoke rocks and swirling water. Robertson sees natural rock formations as queer forms and changing bodies. Stones are shaped by the process of erosion, which reveals new shapes and layers over time.

The phrase ‘stone butch’ is taken from the lesbian and transgender activist Leslie Feinberg’s novel Stone Butch Blues (1993). The book describes the oppression of lesbian, transgender, butch and femme identities. Feinburg wrote about the ‘raincoat layer’ of the body exposed to external and hostile forces.

This layer is visualised in Stone (Butch) as a protective cover made of jesmonite shielding the Corten steel below. The sculpture reclaims a space in the landscape for queer and butch identities, which have historically been deemed ‘against nature’. Stone (Butch) prompts us to question who is depicted and commemorated in art. Public statues and figurative sculptures have traditionally represented a narrow demographic and a binary understanding of gender.

Robertson’s work resonates with the landscape and artistic heritage of YSP, particularly with Barbara Hepworth’s The Family of Man (1970) nearby. While they were an Associate Artist during Yorkshire Sculpture International in 2019, Robertson had a solo display at The Hepworth Wakefield and took part in the group exhibition Associated Matter at YSP. Their works are in the collections of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and The Hepworth Wakefield.

Stone (Butch) is the first major open-air sculpture by an artist already recognised an important voice of their generation. First shown in an urban context as part of Sculpture in the City in London, the work now resonates with the natural landscape environment at YSP and begins a dialogue with new audiences.

Robertson says: “To create a public sculpture as a Queer and non-binary artist and to position it in public space is to open up the conversation of who is represented via sculpture. Public sculpture has traditionally only represented a narrow demographic and a binary understanding of gender and I hope to be part of a new shift away from this.”