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Yelena Popova 'The Scholar Stones Project'

07.02.20 - 20.03.20

The Holden Gallery is delighted to present Yelena Popova, ‘The Scholar Stones Project’. Working across a range of media including painting, installation and tapestry, Popova’s interdisciplinary project addresses an ongoing fascination with nuclear history and materiality. The exploration into nuclear heritage reflects on Popova’s autobiographical history, having grown up in Ozyorsk, Russia, a secret closed city, and the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear-weapons programme.

Over the last year Popova has been visiting decommissioned nuclear sites around the UK as part of a self-appointed enquiry. ‘The Scholar Stones Project’ is the culmination of her research, exploring the deep connections between our nuclear industry, the landscape and the passage of time.

A scholar stone is a naturally occurring or shaped rock that adheres to a set of aesthetic principles defined in Tang dynasty China (618-907 AD), which would be displayed and admired as objects of contemplation. As a contemporary response, Popova has gathered soil and stones from nuclear sites across the country, attempting to make this invisible industry tangible by drawing attention to these material objects and their correlation to time, geology and landscape. The exhibition includes a new series of paintings, created with pigments made using soil from Popova’s research sites, presented alongside scholar stones found at those same sites.

Popova has also produced two new tapestries, Keepsafe (I and II), 2019, as propositions for mausoleums for the decommissioned reactors. These Magnox reactors of the first generation currently cannot be dismantled and will have to remain on the British coastline until at least the end of the century, bringing the question of our nuclear heritage to view.

‘The Scholar Stones Project’ is supported by the Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre, Sculpture Production Award 2019, and Arts Council England.


Thursday 6 February 2020
5:30pm to 7:30pm


Download the exhibition publication (PDF).


Linked Events

Insights is a series of bitesize lectures where invited experts and practitioners share recent research, drawing connections to the current exhibition.

In Conversation: Yelena Popova and Ele Carpenter
Join Yelena Popova as she discusses her exhibition The Scholar Stones Project with curator and researcher Ele Carpenter.

Film Screening: Yelena Popova and guests
The film screening programme will explore key themes relating to Popova's research, such as nuclear histories and materiality, the anthropocene, deep time and memory.

  1. The Scholar Stones Project Installation view
  2. Yelena Popova, Keepsafe (I and II), Two Jacquard woven tapestries, 2019
  3. The Scholar Stones Project Installation view
  4. Scholar Stone