Category Archives: Featured Idea

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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Love G.I.T. – part II

Kurt Gödel

Kurt Gödel

I was just sitting in my studio reading Gödel’s Theorem: an incomplete guide to its uses and abuses,
which I stumbled upon in a used bookstore recently,
and wondered:

I have over a dozen books about Gödel: How do I know when I understand this?
How much more do I have to read to understand Gödel? His work?
To understand Incompleteness? Their History?
To appreciate their consequences?
How deep do I go?

Should I be able to teach a class about this subject matter? … Or,
just feel comfortable explaining the bare essentials
to another person over a coffee?
What is gained by either?

What about different frameworks of analysis? Do I understand Gödel and his work through the framework of pure mathematics?
What about a historical framework or is it more important to see this breakthrough in Logic as a sociological phenomenon
that has crafted our knowledge and advancement ever since?
How about through the Philosophy of Mind or
Philosophy of Logic? Or, something else? Is there any way to understand the Incompleteness Theorems without a framework …

At what point can I say: “this is knowledge that I have and I can communicate it to you …”

And: Why can’t I just take all of this for granted
and finish reading the book,
write my sentences,
speak my words,
walk my walk and move on to something else? Ay, there’s the rub:

This ungraspable unknowingness – both in the sense that a sufficiently complex formal system is never both complete and consistent, as Gödel has shown, and in the sense that I find it difficult to know when I know fully, whether it is what Gödel was doing with his mathematics or his life and the relationship between the two, or another subject matter entirely – is similar to the tension that drove me into my art process and what I have always moved towards and sought to understand with my artistic research. This has been the case for a long time if not since before I knew artist was a career choice. I, also, have struggled with whether I am guilty of misinterpreting not only Gödel’s work, but any reference material I’ve used.

This may sound strange coming from a contemporary artist, given that the theoretical dominance in contemporary art is to combine and combine again … and to not worry about it … because, in fact, that’s the point. It is to recombine systems and representations, reassociate them and reappropriate more and more and more – all for new uses and new meanings, which is, as the thinking goes, the only way something new can come about anyway. OK: so, I suspect my motivation is entirely different than what is mostly happening around me – so be it. I am still fascinated with Gödel and driven to discover my own work: whether I continue to link them or am able to be consistent in my explanation and use of both/either is another issue.

Around the time I called myself an artist and when wondering deeply and continually about these questions seemed circular, I eventually wandered outside and started to break stones… and have been doing so for quite a while, using it as an art form. With learning about Gödel, I am able to say that I am intrigued by what we call Incompleteness and Inconsistency and that these are strong currents in my artistic motivation.

Rebecca Goldstein said it best:

(Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems) are at once mathematical and metamathematical. They have all the rigor of something that is a priori proved, and yet they establish a metaconclusion. It is as if someone has painted a picture that manages to answer the basic questions of aesthetics; a landscape or portrait that represents the general nature of beauty and perhaps even explains why it moves us the way it does.

            – Incompleteness, Goldstein, p. 28

Without realizing it as I transitioned into practicing my art and stating as such (almost 20 years ago), I wanted to “paint” that picture, or rather “sculpt” that sculpture – not to understand aesthetics, but rather the creative pulse, the thought instinct, the neurological throbbing. I wanted to capture this self-referential tension: understand it; know it; use it or maybe, just, be free from it. There is tension in the possibility of performing/claiming your own action – in that, by definition, it is contingent on nothing else but you and you alone – in asserting your own agency. There is tension in the enormity of knowing all the contingencies that make you what you are at this moment – in claiming your own history, owning your context and seeing their consequences – in that claiming such a terminal may be hubris (or strategem) because the line of causality just continues. And, there is tension in devising strategies to deal with all this and, even, a tension in relying upon strategies that you simply use because of education or evolution: is the strategy ultimately yours and fully accountable to you and complete? Or, is it better to ask: helpful, workable, viable? What is the bias within the strategy – How does it limit perception, and harness and, thereby, determine process? Furthermore: How do you know you are not being used by another strategy in devising your own?

I’ve been propelled into art by this desire to understand metathinking. Finding Gödel’s Theorem: an incomplete guide to its uses and abuses was a welcome reminder of this. I’ve discovered many pitfalls, run into some big blocking patterns and tripped over more than a few intellectual coppices as I’ve investigated this tension within Incompleteness, Inconsistency, Paradox, Strategy and Art and Knowledge. I’ve shown some of this in my art. There is more …

to be continued …

Samuel Nigro, The Strategic Placement of Stone

The Strategic Placement of Stone, 2008, a 9-ton block of granite, broken and placed

Samuel Nigro, The Strategic Placement of Stone

The Strategic Placement of Stone, 2008, a 9-ton block of granite, broken and placed

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Love G.I.T. – part I

This summer, I took a break from wandering the internet machine …
and thinking of strategies for it’s digital negotiation …
and planning my India project,

and, instead, worked for a Master Rigger, watching equipment and people hang off of
and fix New York City sky-scrapers and surrounding area mansions – all to pay some bills.

Pierre Hotel 01 - Samuel Nigro and Kenny Cole

Pierre Hotel 02 - Samuel Nigro and Kenny Cole

My birthday recently I had a brief and pleasant rupture in my 12-hour a day work schedule I’d been maintaining all summer. I had one of those unplanned, confounding experiences  (read another example here) that reminded me of my true drive.

When I woke up the day of my birthday, I rather suddenly decided that I wanted to find a bookstore I’d never been to before, preferably used. I was occupying a summer sublet in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and knew what I sought must be close. By afternoon, I discovered Book Thug Nation, a used bookstore just down the street in Williamsburg. Without forethought or drama, I strolled in and, as if caught in its gravitation field, the first book I picked up was Gödel’s Theorem: an incomplete guide to its uses and abuses. I was stunned – shocked really – at the confluence and here’s why:

I’ve been explicitly interested in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem as an example of a paradoxical and self-reflexive tension that I’ve been interested in rendering into some kind of art form for a long, long time – in fact, it is this kind of tension that pushed me into art-making in the first place, well before I knew who Gödel was. I was always drawn to paradoxical twists and arguments and fallacies etc. In high school I enjoyed What is the Name of this Book? by mathematician, Raymond Smullyan. You don’t need to read Smullyan’s book or to understand Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to get a flavor of what a paradoxical and self-reflexive tension is – just think about that title one more time: What is the Name of this Book? is the title and reflects back upon itself  by asking what the title is both at the same time – so, what IS the title of that book…. Love it. Anyway.

So, I walked into Book Thug Nation on my birthday after a few months away from this blog, and this book picked me up. I reread the title: Gödel’s Theorem: an incomplete guide to its uses and abuses. I chuckled at its bone-dry hilarity, and I am not only reminded of Gödel’s important mathematical discovery that I’ve been thinking about for years, but also, and more importantly, I was awoken to its tension, to its consequences, to the tension to communicate, to connect, to understand, to know. The book had me at the opening line of the preface:

My excuse for presenting yet another book on Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem written for a general audience is that no existing book both explains the theorem from a mathematical point of view … and comments on a fairly wide selection of the many invocations of the incompleteness theorem outside of mathematics.

Gödel’s Theorem: an incomplete guide to its uses and abuses, Franzén, p.ix.

… it’s uses and abuses.” reverberated. I think: “Yes, exactly, EXACTLY! Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems has created misunderstandings and fueled misuses precisely because it has such broad implications and is so universe-shattering.” I foster fresh connections as I stand there, reading, then thinking: “Uniqueness, Infinity and Unity and their concomitant ideas (the subject matter of this blog) have similar affects on people.”

The thoughts fire on “… that’s what I’m in the middle of, what is all around me … what I’ve been breaking stones for – not just the universe-shattering consequences of Gödel’s work and trying to understand it, and not just how something so ground breaking can be used and misused and misunderstood and molded for diminished purposes (and ‘what if I’m I guilty of that, myself!) – and not just how communication is riddled with rhetoric, paradoxes, manipulations, and fallacies, laced with subtly, symbolism, imagery, desires, motives, and  moves designed to sway the irrational rather than convince the rational, not that our world is filled with examples of using concepts out of context and misappropriating meanings for alternative agendas,  and not merely that agendas abound, belief everywhere, understanding limited, and knowledge constrained, or that the gulf between reality and mind, between reality and communication and between mind and mind continues, but also … and really – just: whew! – that I am still so subject to it all myself!?… what am I doing with my life!? …where’s my hammer!”

At this point, you may be thinking: “Dude – it’s your birthday. Take a break!” Well … exactly … this was my break – both: the planned trip to the bookstore and unplanned union between me and this book – and standard for my birthdays, breaking new ground and learning something new. What occurred upon that virgin walk-in was analogous to what draws me to breaking stone: unpredictable meaning-creation. I found this book without thought, guile or artifice, and the fact that it was my birthday strengthened my mind’s connection for a concept that has been with me for a very long time. Love G.I.T.

So, I bought the book. I didn’t necessarily feel complete, but I felt directed.

to be continued …

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Gutai is in New York!!!

Takesada Matsutani, Samuel Nigro, performance

Takesada Matsutani performing at Galerie Richard, New York, NY, on February 7th 2013

Gutai: Splendid Playground is up at The Guggenheim Museum until May 8th.
It is a show that gives homage to Gutai, a Japanese postwar art movement
that resonates deeply within me.

I came to art well after college and my first impulse was to use my body as a geometric tool to understand materials, spaces and ideas: I broke stones with hammers,
burned them with acetylene torches … carried them, threw them, painted them and drew them. I was bringing my experiences as a wrestler and martial artist
to the world of art making, and I felt a strong impulse to allow material to behave as it would naturally under the weight of a tool
or by the articulation of a process. So, when I discovered that the Gutai did something similar – they embrace actions
that bring out the natural qualities of materials, rather than impose form, ideology and trickery on to it –
I was stunned at the overlap.

I also took note how many Gutai artists engaged their whole bodies
with the materials at hand, which opened up clarity
for an earlier performance I did where
I dug a hole for
24 hours.

So, when I heard one of the preeminent Gutai artists, Takesada Matsutani, was going to perform at Galerie Richard, 514 West 24th Street, New York, NY,
I jumped at the chance to go.

Weeks later, I discovered a Facebook friend, Taney Roniger, was also at the performance
and wrote a great essay and blog post that I encourage you to read.

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A Hammer Drill and Explosions – to break a stone

I recently came across this video that has an interesting way of breaking stone. It is a very purposeful technique and necessary for understanding the melting of Glaciers – I find this fascinating.

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