Tag Archives: Art

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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back in the usa …

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New YorkSamuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

Samuel Nigro, New York

a few things I’ve seen and me seeing the few things I’ve seen … since getting back from India

still in residual shock … but steady … moving towards …

more cairns and such.

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Tempelhof Airport _ Statement III _ and a Thank You

Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, famous for its use during the Berlin Airlift of 1948, has been preserved and converted into a public park,
virtually unchanged in its landscape from when it was a functional airport.
It is an amazing public resource and a rare expansiveness in an urban setting; it reminds me of a mini-version of the American Great Plains
with the unobstructed views, open sky and flat, flat, flatness.
This was quite a contrast to the drama of the Himalayas
and the decoction of crowdedness and chaos
I experienced throughout India.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great Circle

During my three months in Berlin, I took to riding my bike around Tempelhof Airport almost everyday, coasting over the gentle rise and fall of terrain, up and down the runways and around and around the grounds without touching the handlebars for long, extended periods, and this free flow wandering in wide open space helped spur on my thoughts for Statement III, a piece of writing
I promised to publish in a previous post when I arrived in Berlin from India, in June 2014. 

However, Statement III still eludes me.

Below are five rough drafts. The first four are links to previous posts on this blog:

1. How to break a stone – in five easy steps.

2.a) Love G.I.T. – part I
2.b) Love G.I.T. – part II

3. Heutegesternmorgenwelt – a series:

a) Bread, Granite and Heutegesternmorgenwelt
b) Heutegesternmorgenwelt Resolved (Three Birds of Different Orders)
c) To Walk, To Mime … (Heutegesternmorgenwelt REDUX)

4.a) Three Stones from Three Cities – part 1
4.b) Three Stones from Three Cities – part 2

and

The fifth is a new attempt and a product of my Tempelhof Airport bike riding:

5. The Great Circle (Statement III – a rough draft):

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 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, inevitably, 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.

With the highlighting of these 5 rough drafts of Statement III, I need to shift my attention
away from this blog and the Internet machine for a while
and devote more concentrated time and effort in other, deeper directions – specifically, toward the work I furthered in India,
Cairns – Shards – Pieces – and, as this work proceeds,
Statement III will inevitably evolve.

I’m not disappearing from this digital land but my intention is to not post on this blog for a while and … well … I’ll let you know what’s next. Its brewing.
Sign up for my newsletter, because then you will be sure
to stay current. 

Thank you for your readership.

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Three Stones from Three Cities – part 1

I spy this fracture pattern in a cobblestone one Sunday afternoon, as I walk through Mauerpark
in Berlin, Germany, with a friend, Helena, who is visiting from The States.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

Mauerpark is more than two American Football Fields long and almost the width of a Football field wide. It is oriented North-South and was once part of No-Man’s land between the inner and outer rings of the Berlin Wall. The Western edge of the park is where the Wall that greeted West Berliners stood and now a simple wire fence demarks the boundary between Mauerpark and the Flea Market, which is bustling every weekend. The Eastern edge of the park is up on a slope, where the outer ring of the Wall once stood and there is a section still standing as a reminder. At the base of this slope, there is a cobblestone road that runs straight through the full length of the park. Roughly at the midpoint of this road, in the center of the park, embedding in the hillside, is an amphitheater with a circular, stone stage and the cobblestone road is tangential to it.

This Sunday, Helena and I are standing on the Cobblestone road at the circular stage of this outdoor arena, which is packed with people waiting for outdoor karaoke to start.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

We look up at the tiered seating on the hillside and decide to make our way up the slope to the top, find a place to stand and have a look down onto the stage. We are being jostled by the throngs of people, who are walking, standing about, exiting and entering the arena area, waiting for the singing to start or cruising and looking for some other excitement in the busy park, carrying bottles of Berliner Pils, bouncing basket balls, kicking soccer balls, pushing strollers, walking bikes. This is both a Berliner and Tourist hotspot – it’s the same deal every Sunday with the Flea Market packed and the promise of both awesomely embarrassingly hilarity and bust’n live beats of Top Forty swing-a-ding-ding from the Karaoke singers who do their best (or worst) in front of about 500 people: we are hoping to see people embarrass themselves with a Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus song or, perhaps, we’ll get some old-timer East Berliner giving his best Frank Sinatra imitation – in German! We move along this road out of the congested area, and I glance down to give the cobblestones a cursory look.

See: as a sculptor, I work with stone, I’ve done work with found cobblestones, and I had a notable experience with a New York City cobblestone that I relate in this blog, as it was a stone I had walked over for years, but for whatever reason I had never noticed it until that day and, given the different context, it triggered an avalanche of thinking about important historical moments in the field of Science and pointed towards a relevance of stone for our present day and reminded me why I work with this material, in the first place. Here is a picture of it:

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

As I prepared for my trip to India to find Indian granite to work with, I made both mental and physical lists of the kinds of work, the kernels of ideas really, that I’d mull over while in India, and one of my ideas had to do with comparing, contrasting and relating this New York Cobblestone with other stones I find else where. I didn’t know how I’d execute this – I suspected through drawing – but it was part of the mental database I would bring with me to India … more about this in part 2.

As I glance down at the cobblestones along this pedestrian roadway in Mauerpark amidst the sea of people, I am conscious of the fact that I may be artificially trying to find significance in another urban stone by making some obtuse or forced connection, but then something irregular jumps out: a cobblestone that has a bizarre – decidedly ‘un-urban’ – fracture pattern. I can’t help it and I am hooked. Here’s an expanded image of that first stone I saw:

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

This triggers three simultaneous, yet distinct mental activities, like the clap of thunder accompanied with a flash of lighting and then the smell of Ozone – I wonder; I scan; and a cascade of thought pours in. I see the initial stone:

1. I wonder: “What … is … this? This is unexpected.?!.?!.”

2. I scan and see another and then another and another with a similar odd breaking pattern: a small grouping here, a larger grouping there. These are common cobblestones, so the strangeness isn’t the material but the breaking. There are deeper fissures and lesser fissures; there are voids of missing stone; there are places of more and less stone damage, scattered in an indiscernible pattern around the area we walk. The damage is subtle, most would not even give it a second glance, but the pattern doesn’t fit. Something is off, as the lesser breaks stay shallow along the upper layers of the stone, not deep and penetrating like you would find if erosion and changes in temperature and weather were the cause.

3. The cascade of thought happens quicker than one can chug a full glass of water and include:

“But, not one cobblestone sticks out: this doesn’t fit … my symbolic expectation.”

“Ignore. That is not important … Breaking … Looking …”

“But, this is not an identification with an individual cobblestone
or a decisive event of recognition and insight. What is it you are looking at and why is it significant?”

“Wait: your expectations can blind you … hold on … Processing …”

“Ok. This is outside your mold; deal with it. Discard your present system of analysis and observe. Take in more than you usually do, more than you are comfortable with. Wake up. Pay attention!”

“This break in the stone is not normal, unexpected. Period. Looking …”

“A mystery … Cogitating … How did they get this way? Not by any means you’re familiar with.”

“Observing …”

“But no one else notices.”

“That’s right, no one else cares, but that doesn’t mean there is no mystery … and they are no concern of yours, anyway … Thinking …”

“Trauma here; Trauma there. Geez, about a dozen cobblestones in this one clump, pummeled, broken, abused. What force did this?”

“The cracks are too strange to be the consequence of the freeze and thaw cycle … You highly doubt it was the freeze and thaw cycle … You’d be surprise if it was the freeze thaw cycle – erosion, too slow … these leave distinctive breaks and you can see how it follows the weakness of the stone. There are patterns to … usually that follow a natural, weak contour of the stone and … Freeze-Thaw? Can’t be?”

“This is explosive. What?”

“Dubious. What? … Move … these are fast breaks. How fast? Simultaneous?”

“That’s important …”

“How long has this road been here? Long – the road has a wear and polished surface of vehicle use. But these could be recycled stones from another road.”

“What? What?”

“Possibilities … all and any …”

“First: historical context …

“A grenade during the battle of Berlin, a shock wave from an allied bomb, a tank tread from the time Mauerpark was part of No-man’s land?

“Road most likely not old enough … What does that even mean?

“Could this have been deliberate? A sledgehammer? A carpenter’s hammer? More than a boot strike. But in such random places? And the characteristic that is so strange is that these cracks don’t go deep into the stone, but in and then along the surface… then there is a strange mellowing of the newly exposed surface. What is that?”

“Large machinery parked here for a construction job close by, but unrelated to geopolitical conflicts?”

“For these things to be confirmed, you need to know the history of this park: was it always a park? Like before WWII? When did it become a park? Were there homes in the field to the west, and were they then destroyed by bombing or to clear the area between the outer and inner Berlin Wall? Was it always a field, a park? When, What, Why … This Road?

“A force from below: What is underneath us? Different forces? Different times? Tectonic – naw, no way, not even close. Breaks mostly on top …”

“What other force could have broken these stones?”

 “Create a mental map. Create a mental marker. Remember this: we are walking through an unexpected field of trauma. An individual cobblestone is not the issue. Something occurred to these stones, but What? I have never seen this kind of pattern before … and a municipal force could have fixed them … why not? … why?”

“How, now, Watson! The game is afoot!”

This transderivational search goes on for a bit longer. It was a quick glance and rapid-fire thought. We move and are jostled among all the people and are now walking up the slope. Helene has no idea what I am thinking as I didn’t break stride with her. We were talking about her painting and I decided not to overtake our conversation with my unformed thoughts; besides, we already have plenty to talk about. We move up the slope to the top of the arena.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

I knew my initial thoughts were accurate only in the sense that there was a mystery. I didn’t really think those military reasons where possible, but, given the closeness of the history, it was easy to go there.

I remember reading somewhere: “Everything is the way it is because it got that way,” and those stones were not broken by magic.
I needed more information … or did I?

Then, I drop it. However …

Over the next 24 hours, I kept finding this mental marker for the Unexpected Field of Trauma
peering out from my much higher priority thoughts and daily tasks …
until the next afternoon, and I could not let this lie.
I go back to Mauerpark
with my camera.

To be continued … (part II here)

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Cogitating … drawing … still adjusting …

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

 These 12 drawings and 18 detail shots from 25 other drawings
were done over a few weeks
in the same fashion
as before during
this adjustment
period.

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