Levitated Mass: The rock of ages

If you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of years, you may not remember a time in the spring of 2012 when a literal rock star, which gained both national and international news coverage, was the center of media attention. This rock is none other than the infamous 340-ton granite boulder first discovered in December of 2006 at Stone Valley Quarry in Riverside that eventually found its way home atop the grounds of the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art in the heart of the City of Angels.

Two years later, the same rock, formally called “Levitated Mass”, is the subject of Doug Pray’s aptly titled documentary originally premiered in last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival.

In this film, Pray explores the controversial, artistic journey of the rock that stems from the visionary mind of one of America’s most contentious and reclusive land artists, Michael Heizer, and takes the audience along the 10-night, 105-mile expedition crossing 22 cities in 4 different counties up until its final installation in LACMA as LA’s very own iconic landmark.

The film sets the scene and takes us back to 1969 where we learn that Heizer first endeavored to construct this large-scale sculpture using a 120-ton boulder. This project, however, was immediately discarded due to a failed removal attempt of the said rock when the crane used to lift it broke.

Fast forward to 2006 where Heizer finds a much bigger rock, contacts LACMA director Michael Govan to back him up and, privately raises an immense amount of funding support for the installation to finally commence five years later.

Though the renowned solitary artist Michael Heizer’s physical presence is absent for most of the film, Pray manages to fill that void by incorporating old interview clips from Heizer’s younger years when he had just started to shake the artistic world with his unconventional works of art.

Although the film offers a peak inside Heizer’s life, we learn from the documentary that his grandfather and father were geologist and archeologist respectively, which is what may have ignited his passion for stunning boulders, “Levitated Mass” is certainly not an in-depth visual profile of the cloistered artist.

Instead, Pray perfectly captures the $10 million dollar journey of this two-story high rock, and the artistic essence surrounding it. Of course the project wouldn't have been possible without the help of one 295-foot long, 206-wheeled transporter constructed by Emmert International Transport Services. Due to its gigantic size, certain necessary measures were taken, such as the temporary removal of some traffic lights and even towing of several cars all for the assistance of the trailer’s movement.

However, what is truly captivating about this film is the public’s reaction to the rock’s 105-mile journey. It brought out thousands of Californian spectators all wanting to bear witness to this historical event. Spontaneous block parties were held in cities, and a marriage proposal even transpired in a town the rock passed through.

Doug Pray tells the Los Angeles Times, “The one thing I’ve learned in this is that LA is always up for something unusual. It’s in our makeup,” adding that, “Something about the Southern California spirit is very open to anything.”

Indeed, the open-mindedness of the public and its enthusiastic support for this colossal rock conveyed a sense of unintentional unity within the region, and Pray impressively showcases that in the film. Angelenos of all ages, hipsters, artists, quarry workers, cops, and children are featured, each voicing their opinion, adding different layers to the story.

Needless to say, Heizer’s work of modern conceptual art in the form of a rock has also gone under scrutiny. Among the spectators lined up the streets are doubters who question the rock’s authenticity as an art form, which is simply inevitable especially with something of this magnitude.

I must admit, coming to see this documentary about a rock left me skeptical at first. It’s just a rock. Right?

Yet, as I watch the rock finally arrive at its destination, I realize that the journey in and of itself is its own work of art. The way the masses are able to interpret the rock’s journey and somehow weave it into their lives with a sense of connection is surprisingly incredible. The various emotions and perspectives this rock is able to evoke from each and every person that encounters it is pretty amazing, which is what art is meant to do.