Category Archives: Featured Thinker

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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my most nostalgic post so far …

Horoballs and Tsvietkova

Horoballs (note: all the spheres are tangent to the z-plane) and Anastasiia Tsvietkova

Anastasiia Tsvietkova – Hyperbolic Structures from Link Diagrams

Anastasiia Tsvietkova – Hyperbolic Structures from Link Diagrams

14 prime knots with 7 crossings

14 prime knots with 7 crossings

I lucky got the chance to go to the last Geometry and Topology Seminar at CUNY Graduate center on December 11th right before the holidays. It was a treat.

Anastasiia Tsvietkova of Louisiana State University presented her dissertation entitled Hyperbolic Structures from Link Diagrams.
Rooted in knot theory and geometric topology, she builds upon W. Thurston’s Hyperbolization Theorem,
which demonstrates that every link in a 3-sphere is

a torus link,
a satellite link
or a hyperbolic link

and these three categories are mutually exclusive. That just SOUNDS satisfying.

Her dissertation lays out an alternative way to compute the hyperbolic link in a 2-DIMENSIONAL PROJECTION.

That deserves a “WOW!”

I enjoyed the talk very much, even though much of the math was over my head.
The fact that the whole lecture only dealt with 3-dimensions made it easier.
I, at least, understood what was at stake and enjoyed following
the structure of the argument.
You can read her paper.

The bottom line:

The lecture got me to open my Knot Theory book and
revisit my drawings of hyperbolic paraboloidal shapes
from Calculus III,

because knot theory is fun and I enjoy calculus.

Hyperbolic Paraboloids from Calc III

Hyperbolic Paraboloids from Calc III

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Happy Thanksgiving and Gratitude List of 12

In the United States, yesterday was Thanksgiving – a time where Americans meet over a meal for fellowship, connection and community.
I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving – and I hope everyone can find something to be grateful for.

It’s been a few weeks since I posted, because I’ve been planning a 6-month trip out of the country for perhaps the largest art project I’ve ever done.
I’m not ready to make it public, but stay tuned. I’ll announce soon, and if you want insider info:
join my mailing list,
and be sure to follow this blog
so you can follow
my progress.

This post is about gratitude. I’ve done so much over the last few months and I feel grateful for all that has transpired and I’ll like to share some of it with you.
In keeping with the main purpose of this blog, my list of 12 items below is a small window into some of what I’ve been curious about.
Make sure you go all the way to the end, because there’s a clue to my 6-month project that I’ll announce soon…

Can you guess what I’ll be doing soon?

Rachel Uffner GalleryRachel Uffner Gallery1. Opening – Anya Kielar: WOMEN; Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York, NY.

Rachel Uffner Gallery is a great gallery in the Lower Eastside and I am always amazed by the amount of art
that she gets into such a small space … and it always looks good.

Global Attractor and Messoud Efendiev2. Attended – Finite and infinite dimensional attractors for porous medium equations, Messoud Efendiev; ANALYSIS SEMINAR, Courant Institute, NYU.

Part of Prof. Efendiev’s lecture set out to show how you know whether a global attractor, a concept in chaos theory, was unique.
He pointed out – with great enthusiasm – that you first have to prove its existence! awesome, just awesome.

Teresita Fernandez3. Opening – Teresita Fernandez: Night Writing; Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, NY.

Like the simplicity … fan.

Bryan Osbrun painting4. Opening – Bryan Osburn; Jason McCoy Gallery, New York, NY.

I’ve followed Bryan’s work for years and his painting has grown and changed in wonderful ways!

The Kitchen5. Attended – The Kitchen L.A.B.: Shannon Jackson, Elad Lassry, Tere O’Connor and Lynne Tillman; The Kitchen, New York, NY.

A discussion about the perils of understanding one’s present moment and not being subject to forces of objectification, intellectual tyranny and the mediated presence. My gloss: How can you express a unique presence? How can you describe it? How can you know it? The presenters made some post-modern moves and expressed the way they each dealt with these issues in their own art practice. All very slippery stuff … stuff I struggle with in my own art.

Alan Weinstein6. Attended – Microlocal analysis over the Maslov cycle, Alan Weinstein; Geometric Analysis and Topology Seminar, Courant Institute, NYU.

This lecture just blew me out of the water. The cutting edge of pure mathematics: You don’t get more abstract than this!
Will tackle this lecture in another post.

Samuel Nigro Cardboard Volume7. Made a bunch of these. They are cardboard volumes, 88 x 20 x 20” representing a volume of granite that would weigh 2 tons. You’ll see more of these soon.

Mark Dagley Red and Black Triangle

8. Opening – Mark Dagley: Structural Solutions; Minus Space, Brooklyn, NY.

One reason I really like Minus Space is because of its minimalist sensibility. I love this red and black painting.
The gallery is in my neighborhood – dumbo, Brooklyn, NY – right down the street from my studio, really.
The weird thing is that late one afternoon I received an email announcing a new post
of a blog I follow:

I had a quick look, and left my studio to attend some openings in the neighborhood and walked directly to Minus Space – and directly in front of this black and red painting. I couldn’t NOT make the connection!? I couldn’t make this up: Weird, Just weird … and non-rational.

Lucas Caleb Rooney Zara Aina: Share a Life

9. Met – Lucas Caleb Rooney, founder of Zara Aina: Share Life

Lucas is working on an amazing project, where he is pairing theater actors from America with children from Madgascar so both groups can connect, share their experiences and find a new outlet to tell their stories. The goal is to allow these children to develop theatrical performances as a mode of communication about their difficult upbringings.

Zara Aina: Share Life is having its inaugural benefit on Nov. 26th. Have a look at the site and buy a ticket. I’ll post more information soon!

Chinese Buddhist Sculpture in the West

10. Attended – Chinese Buddhist Sculpture in the West: Charles Lang Freer and the Xiangtangshan Cave Chapels, Presented by Keith Wilson, The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art; The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU.

A lecture about the reconstruction of a Buddhist cave, built 1500 years ago in Northern China, and musings about how religious icons become objects of aesthetic displays.

Hurricane Sandy dumbo

11. Superstorm Sandy and The Election for the President of the United States of America.

These two events kept me busy, and they are related. Much has been said about both, and many pictures taken.
I’ll just add: We are, most likely, in a new climate state.

Jesse Bercowetz & Rathin Barman12. Met – My friend and sculptor Jesse Bercowetz introduced me to Rathin Barman, a sculptor from Calcutta, India.

And finally, Thanksgiving:

Samuel Nigro thanksgiving

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