Nikita Alexeev
Stones on My Head 1982/2019
Photo: George Kiesewalter
Courtesy of the artist

Rock stacking has carried spiritual meaning across cultures for centuries. The concept of Buddhist stupas, originally built as piles of stones to house relics of a holy person or objects associated with their life, was later extended into a form of votive offering. The act of balancing stones requires patience and mental focus, thereby demonstrating the builder’s commitment to achieving an undistracted, peaceful mind.

In Sanskrit stūpa also means “top-knot” and designates the upper part of the head. This double meaning is a good fit with the artist, who poses in front of the camera with stones on his head. Nikita Alexeev admits to having spent a period of his life engaged in “godsearching.” He devoted several years to reading samizdat translations of Buddhist sacred texts and visiting “Inostranka,” the State Library of Foreign Literature, to work on his own translations of texts on Huineng, a central figure in the early history of Chan Buddhism. “I adhered to Buddhism. And like a mosquito in amber I am wallowing there, preposterously.” How does the world look when seen through the color-filtered lens of amber? What changes in the world as a result of crowning oneself with a stone from a Crimean beach?