Monthly Archives: June 2015

Three Essays and What’s next …

Samuel Nigro, New York

Traveling to India,
working with over 120 tons of Cairns, Shards and Pieces of Indian Granite
and committing to the fact that the act of making art could only keep me away from fundamental issues of language-use and knowledge-creation temporarily by

writing (such as about the state of HeuteGesternMorgenWelt),

writing (and about the simplicity of HeuteGesternMorgenWelt)

and writing (and “I-can’t-believe-it’s-the-Heute-Gestern-Morgen-or-Today-Yesterday-Tomorrow-World/Welt” thing, again)

 – I write three essays that offers a framework

of the what and why I do what I do … with respect to the field of sculpture.

Samuel Nigro, New York

I. thoughts on stone (circa 2002)

My earliest thought on stone occurred with my sister. She was six. I was two. We collected stones and broke them with our father’s hammer. We gathered the pieces and put them back together, placing the new stone gently on the ground. The shards would shift, wabble and fall to their natural resting place. The broken stones formed a long line dividing our asphalt driveway in two. This memory – a lesson about unity, change and intention; their opposites and the many grades in between – contains all the raw material that fuels my sculptural approach.

As a sculptor, I seek to understand stone – what it’s made of, how it came to be, who has used it and why I do so again. I break stones – I place them: my work conflates a specific space, a chosen stone and decisive breaks. Sculpture has the potential to create its own place, contribute to a practiced place or be used as a tactical place. My aim is to make sculpture that exists within the interplay of all three; that asks how the space outside us and the space within us create what’s in between, and vice versa; and, that, in turn, generates a new thought on stone and, by extension, ourselves.

My work does not glamorize a cathartic undoing or fetishize a personal history; and, I have little impulse to re-appropriate old representations or systems and recombine them with different ones as a way to claim newness, relevance or authenticity. Rather, my art looks at the shifting boundaries between the need to find unity and connection in our daily lives, the desire to transform the spaces in which we live, and the problem of integrating into society or disintegrating because of it. Analogous boundaries are found within and among all disciplines, movements and theories, all politics, religions and cultures. These boundaries can be seamless and smooth, but, more often than not, are coarse and abrasive, creating fault-lines that, if tension builds, can transform into battle-lines. Through art, I search for the forces underneath these boundaries.

This view can be outlined by crossing three different attitudes to sculpture as exemplified by three renowned sculptors: Constantine Brancusi, whose sculpture is a visual expression of Neo-Platonic thought (a philosophy in which reality is a reflection of an idealized state emanating from one source – what Plato calls variously the One, the True, the Good, the Beautiful); Anish Kapoor, whose spirituality and outlook is born out of Lacanian psychology (a position where representation always defers to another representation in an infinite regression of causality and the self exists in a shifting, anxious state of identifying with, what Lacan calls, the Other, the summation of everything external); and, Richard Serra, whose bold assertion that the meaning of his sculpture is derived from its context and thus to move it is to destroy it (a predication of a purely empirical investigation, rather than a metaphorical, symbolic or narrational one). My artistic approach is designed to build a contemporary context for stone that can be seen as a marriage – or bridge, or maybe just a wormhole – between Brancusi’s modernist aphorism “I give you pure joy.” and Kapoor’s post-modernist dictum “In the Beginning was the Void.”

Samuel Nigro, New York

I was thirteen, hiking just below a snow-covered alpine. Without warning, the nape of my neck bristled: a sonic boom; white light, a metallic taste engorged my mouth. I was lifted, back arched, boots dangling above the ground. An instant later: the noise, the light, the taste stopped. I panicked to land on my feet … and did – startled, unhurt and, yet, unable to name what happened.

I forgot about this event – never thought of it again – until five years later when I happened to read about other people’s similar experiences, and realized that the simplest thing I could say about this memory that rushed back was that I had been struck by lightning, but wasn’t really sure and didn’t know what it meant if anything; so, I kept it to myself for a long time and, once again, forgot about it until I was deep into to my art process and trying to figure out the relationships between meaning, knowledge and understanding as I learned about breaking and moving stone. As it turns out, repression, sublimation and the spotlight of one’s attention are three powerful mechanisms of the brain that creates meaning and motivation for us. I retell this story, because it is much like how I see myself having gotten into making art – the impulse seemed to come out from nowhere, seemed to come from a hidden motivation and a sudden unfolding of meaning.

However, before I knew “artist” was a career choice, I was conscious about the intellectual agitation that started me down this path, which was an epistemological longing, a how and why I know what I know. (Art offered me a way around the epistemological structures of the other disciplines I had studied; it initially got me out of all issues related to language, entirely – but only briefly).

Sculpture can have a phenomenological power (it influences a body through perception of form and material, and gives new countenance to a space by creating a different place for contemplation or action), and people look towards sculpture, consciously or not, to satisfy or to lean on an ontological position (to confirm, challenge or change something within, often so one can, then, make a statement about the world or claim about reality without). And, as I crafted an art to give an outlet and expression to my questions, I realized my need to grapple with all three notions – the epistemological, phenomenological and ontological – did not disappear, because sculpture’s true force – liberation if you will – lies somewhere between these three, not resting within one.

Samuel Nigro, New York

III. the great circle (circa 2014)

As a young boy, I often imagined a line extending perpendicular from my direction of travel, going all the way around the planet and coming back perpendicularly to my other side, creating a giant ring around the globe, a Great Circle in the parlance of geometry, and, by definition, always concentric with the earth. Part of the excitement was to imagine the ring in its entirety and to go further and imagine that this Great Circle was attached to me, was me, and would move effortlessly with me, around and around our planet, hugging the surface of the earth in whatever way I could imagine. What it saw, I saw – what it felt, I felt – what it experienced, I experienced the same.

I varied the properties of this line by imagining it as different fantasy materials of varying thicknesses and flexibilities – so, I determined when it remained ridged, ignoring all the complexity of the planet and sweeping out perfect arcs of perfect circles and shaving the globe to a perfect sphere; or, I would loosen it up so it moved over only a specific topology like the hard earth crust or then include other objects and mold itself around just animals, or just people, just trees, plants, insects, just homes, buildings, structures; or, I’d make it so thin, so malleable that it conformed to different degrees of detail, zipping over complicated surfaces, effortlessly, conforming to every nook and crag, every flake, scale and leaf, every pebble, glop and glump, tuft, tassel and clump, every marble or toy, every detail and deeper, deeper detail still, sometimes skimming over water, sometimes conforming to every ripple, sometimes hugging the land and descending to the bottom of every depression, every lake, ocean and stream, every pool, every puddle, every bowl of soup, every cup of hot chocolate, every glass half empty or glass half full. As a boy, I figured that in principle my line could even conform down to the microscopic level, and this made me dizzy, as did interior spaces – they were difficult to imagine, too. Nevertheless, even knowing this abstract geometry existed and as I played to maintain harmonious and fluid motion between my mind and The Great Circle, I imagined being everywhere, always, at the same time: a total impossibility, and fun while it lasted, because …

By the age of 12 or so, I forgot about this thought exercise, this fantasy really, and moved on: life demanded it. Life got more complicated, thinking complex – strategic designs varied with more teachers, more rules, more guidance; more religion, more grist for agreement and quests for influence, more ideology, more ingredience. Yet, my ability for abstraction both grew and became more focused, more refined. I mean: ‘x’ taking the place of a number in an equation is quite abstract; the tangent of ‘x’ even more so. In short, life and school and communication got more specific in its content and demanding in the way one must engage – and thinking about what was in my immediate purlieu began to dominate.

This Great Circle, this thought experiment, represents a framework of wonder and inquiry of a young boy, a method of investigation, a mode of thinking about his surroundings, an epistemological stance, if you will. I am now using a different method that includes a visual and physical manipulation of material, which marries this curiosity of the boy with all that he was taught and with all that he experienced along with the specific theme of breaking and placing stone, its movement and action, their opposites and the many gradations in between – which now serves as my present framework of discovery and of wonder and inquiry about the act of creation.

 Samuel Nigro, New York

The current state of my artistic interests can be grouped into two general categories:

  1. go to quarries and to start the sculpture process before the stone is separated from the field of granite within which it was originally created, which is what I began in India.
  1. dig deeper into the ideas laid out in these three essays through more writing, more reading, and more drawing and a variety of other studio practices …

Samuel Nigro, New York

more soon …


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