ILANA Halperin, whose work is based around creating a connection between geological time and human time, first became “obsessed” with the Japanese city of Beppu some twenty years ago when living in her native New York. Set amongst mountains – volcanoes – on the Japanese island of Kyushu, Beppu is the second most geothermically active place on Earth after Yellowstone, the city living in and under a constant trail of steam from its many onsen, or hot springs. Halperin’s work in Beppu now forms the basis of an exhibition at Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen which had its first showing in the Fujiya Gallery, Hanayamomo, last Autumn.

“A few years before I moved to Glasgow, I was walking down the street near the Cooper Union art school in New York and came across a man selling books on the pavement. One book caught my eye – it was called Volcano. I picked up the book and found a spread on the geothermal pools of Beppu.” Halperin was immediately taken by Bloody Pond Hell, which might sound like a nightmare geography school field trip, but is in fact the most famous of Beppu’s onsen. “The pool is as red as blood with steam coming out. You’d think it was either a pool of blood or one of lava,” says Halperin. The following images of Beppu, with its hot springs filtering steam over the skyline made Halperin “obsessed with finding my way to Beppu.”

Certainly the images of the city are immediately striking, but for Halperin there was more. “I trained as a stone carver, but I had gone from an interest in carving to an interest in the processes that made stone,” says the sculptor.

Time and life intervened in her search for Beppu, including a move to Glasgow and a series of works which involved creating “cave casts” in France and geothermal sculptures in Iceland. But every now and then Halperin would “check up” on Beppu online. On one of these occasions, she discovered the newly set up arts organization Beppu Projects, which offered her a short research visit to look into the idea of making geothermal sculptures in Beppu’s pools. She also met, by chance, independent curator Naoko Mabon, based in Aberdeen and originally from Kyushu, who has worked with Halperin on the project and curated the exhibitions.

Halperin makes her sculptures by using a base which she creates and lowering it, for some time, into geothermal pools. It is effectively Deep Time on fast forward. “Time and geological time are the critical core of my work,” says Halperin, who trained at Brown University, Rhode island before an MFA from Glasgow School of Art (2000). “I’m looking for ways for us to connect to it, to find out how we fit in a timeline that is much longer than our very short lifespans.”

To this end, she has used the evocatively-named Fontaines Petrifiantes de Saint Nectaire in the volcanic Auvergne region of France to produce sculptures based on coral-like forms which she had placed in the stream of calcium carbonate laden water that streams up from far below the surface of the caves. She has produced geothermal sculptures in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, in a similar process to that used in Beppu, but producing entirely different results due to the different mineral and thermal conditions in each pool. “I make the original shape based on observations of the different places where I am going to place the sculptures,” says Halperin. “I want the deposits to be significant enough to look handmade and naturally-occurring at the same time.”

The forms which Halperin has used as a basis for her fascinating work are, in her words, coral-like, the structure based on the idea of limestone, the “living rock” made up of the bones and the stuff of life some hundreds of millions of years ago. Each form was left in one of six Beppu pools for a year – in contrast her sculpture at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon took just a few weeks to form – checked on regularly by exhibition curator Naoko Mabon and colleagues in Beppu. In exhibition, they are displayed on mirrored glass.

In the course of her career, Halperin has sought out contact with an array of specialists, from vulcanologists to geologists and the National Soils Archive in Aberdeen, who gave Halperin a small but significant sample of four soils from the “Father of Modern Geology”, James Hutton’s home farm to use as the base material for a series of prints which she has made with Peacock to extend the exhibition.

Halperin says she found the Soils Archives’ offer “humbling beyond comprehension,” for Hutton developed the theory of Deep Time. The prints have been made on handmade paper from Kyushu, and include some made from the red mud of Bloody Pond Hell, some from the grey-blue silica of Myoban onsen. Halperin is delighted with the results. “Half of my life I dreamt of going to Beppu, of creating work there. And so for me, this is all just remarkable,” she says.

Ilana Halperin: Geologic Intimacy (Yu no hana),

Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen, until April 29;

Artist Talk: April 1, 3pm – 4.30pm (Free)