Tag Archives: Contemporary 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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Out of India – reverse culture shock

Here are nine drawings I did to help ease the reverse culture shock I felt upon leaving India (go to the start of the trip here) and arriving in Berlin 21 days ago.
I present the group in the order in which they were done,
unculled and unadulterated, raw. Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingThis drawing exercise is basic. I start with ordinary, common material: office paper (8.5 x 11”) and a fine, rollerball office pen, which took away any pressure of treating the material as precious or with affectation. I just needed to get ideas out, and quickly. Spending somewhere between 16 and 43 minutes on each, I made a mark and then slowly made another and another, always building upon the previous one; gradually increasing speed, I marked again and again and again, building momentum as I went – the marks became lines; the lines, boundaries; the boundaries, forms and eventually I fell back to making marks again. Slowing down, I end the process as I feel my mind beginning to shift back to its everyday functionality.

For this post, I thought about listing the many differences between what I experienced in India and getting back to this shockingly familiar Western environment as a way to explain this reverse culture shock, but I decided against this, because any list that I came up with either came off as an unbalanced rant, or was void of context and open to misinterpretation. Over the last few years, writing and language has become more important to me, partially because of this blog, but more precisely because I have been asking different questions of myself and have needed a way to research them, which my trip to India has accelerated. I was warned years ago that if I wanted to excel at writing then don’t have a blog! This was told to me out of the belief that writing is rewriting and the writing process takes time to go deep and communicate the subtly of your subject (I see this now. I believe it); and that a blog, being biased toward clicks and links and views and the desire for immediate now-ness and short attention spans that the internet generates, is not conducive to this sort of reflection and review – in short, not conducive to good writing (I feel this one. Still thinking, and beginning to heed).

So, I am going to give myself more time to figure out how to process and communicate this India project, as I push to complete it, and to formulate what exactly the next project is going to be. I’m not deleting my Internet presence, but some redefining is in order. I will, however, try to convey the disjunction I feel in this transition from India with two short anecdotes.

I. First, since arriving in Berlin, I have not heard a car or motorcycle horn or bicycle bell once – not once! – which is a shock to my system, since in India honk, honk, honking and horns and bellowing, bumping and noise – dust – are everywhere, all the time, constantly. This probably has to do with the sheer concentration of people in India. From my perspective, the flow of people, conveyance and animals is thick, wild and relentless. I suspect the honking, which doesn’t seem to change behavior or influence the traffic in any discernable way, gives the honker a sense of control in this chaotic environment and an outlet for harsh emotions. The honking is totally in their control, something that they alone can do, when all around them there is uncertainty, such as policemen (who look more like soldiers to me) with sticks and clubs who will smack you if you disturb the flow (or maybe the police use those sticks to protect themselves from the river of traffic constantly coming at them – don’t know, probably both).

The more uncertainty, chance and unpredictability (perceived or otherwise) in a population’s environment, the more superstition, ritual and irrationality crop up. There are numerous studies to this effect. I think of the one about American Baseball. Batters, whose task is filled with uncertainty and who are more likely to strike out or get hit by the ball than get on base, are filled with routine upon ritual upon superstition upon irrational behavior in order to cope with the feeling of uncertainty of trying to hit a ball zipping past them at 100 mph. It is close to just, plain chance if they hit the ball. Then, there are outfielders. Their job is set, simple and wholly predictable. If a ball ever comes their way (Ha! there is a lot of standing around time for outfielders!), they are bound to catch it with ease; and, thus, you find essentially zero rituals and superstitions for an outfielder. I < 3 irrationality, because it pushes and reveals the limits of how highly refined our bodies and minds are to take in the stimuli of the universe. It is at these boundaries where our perceptions break down and mistakes are made that tell how we work, how we are put together and who we are.

Now back to the traffic comparison: Berlin, in contrast, is under-populated and has space to spare; and, like I said, not one honk, so far. No gaggle of police with long sticks acting like a traffic light or, more to the point, a dam to prevent an intersection from getting clogged. In Berlin, the streets are wide; it’s easy to get around and a joy to ride a bike. And, besides, it is highly unlikely you’ll ever need to swerve around a dead animal – or an incidental group of ungulates that reduce four lanes down to one (to which … you guessed it … people honk and honk at such a scene that does nothing to get the animals to chew their cud faster and move on) – to get to your destination safely and timely. I’ve been hyped up with the sound of the horn in India and downshifting during this transition has not been easy.

II. Second, I miss the gesture of putting the palms of one’s hands together in front of one’s chest in the prayer position and giving eye contact and a slight bow as a common form of salutation. I like this gesture so much, because it requires all of you, it focuses every part of you, and beckons the other person to respond in kind. People greet each other this way all the time in India and, when performed, it levels the interaction. I loved doing it, because it garners a feeling of respect within you and for the other person and it is very hard to carry malice when performing or seeing such a gesture.

I went to a dance club the other night in Berlin and was introduced to the doorman at the VIP entrance. At the prescribed cultural cue, after our mutual friend introduces us so that we may enter, the doorman and I extend our right hands to one another and offer a firm Alpha-friendly greeting to one another – eye contact, smiles, happy (the act of a hand shake is rare and much more reserved in India; however, I frequently received the offer of a hand shake from an Indian at odd and inappropriate times that set off internal alarm bells of caution, confusion and mistrust, and set me on edge. Obviously, no one shakes hands with such energy like this German doorman and I indulged in). Over the thump of Techno bass, breathing in the cross-cultural bonhomie as our joined forearms bate like an ostrich trying to fly, I declare with an ironic German formality that my name is Sam and that I am very pleased to meet him. He accepts my orthodox German greeting with a warm smile and responds in a jolly, Berliner dialect, which I didn’t fully understand but interpreted as “Awesome. Me, too. Have a great time and see you soon.” When our grip loosens and we each take our hand back, I unconsciously put my hands together in front of my chest, maintain eye contact and give a slight bow. It was like a Pavlovian response to express the love and good-will in my heart because I felt grateful for his gesture of kindness of letting us into the club, unmolested by the cover charge and sinuous line waiting to get in. I felt like I made a new friend, and it felt good to perform that gesture. However, I realized right away how weird this must seem in a Western Context, but that I miss this style of greeting very much.

Anyway, I have more to say – more to show, more to do – with respect to India and with respect to my art. I have more that I am curious about, more questions to ask. As I transition back to a Western Culture, I will evaluate how I will explore, express and process all this. In the meantime, I have reworked a description of what motivates me to make art. It is called Statement II ­– lightning, impulse and longing. You can find Statement I here; and, Statement III is on its way. (UPDATE: Statement III is HERE; all three statements and the trajectory for this India project is HERE)

Statement II ­– lightning, impulse and longing

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, then, 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, 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, now, 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 comports a body through its 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.

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Crossing a Major Threshold: Jason Karolak at McKenzie Fine Art Inc.

Jason Karolak, Painting, SAIC

Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 86 x 76″

Jason Karolak, Painting, SAIC

Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 90 x 79″

Jason Karolak 3 Jason Karolak 4 Jason Karolak 5

I met Jason Karolak at Pratt Institute in the mid-90’s when he was an undergraduate painter
and I was taking part-time classes
about three years
after I received
my BA.

I didn’t know him well, but hung with him just long enough so when he came up to me at a SAIC alumni function at the Sculpture Center this past February,
I had a vague recollection of his undergraduate paintings that were big and grand
and filled with many unanswered questions
and hard-won struggles.

He told me he recently graduated from SAIC with a MFA in painting and that he had a solo show at McKenzie Fine Art.
When I went to the show, I was impressed with not only how far he had come from his undergraduate days,
but also with how much I related to his quiet, methodical thinking that is evident in his mark making
and in how he handles going from a smaller to a larger scale. I also admired his skill with color,
which is something that is beyond my present ability to produce.

In addition, he has crossed a major threshold that stops many MFA recipients: He has managed to continue making work after graduation
and to have a professional show in New York City.
This, in itself, is a profound accomplishment.
I hope he continues to continue.

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Walking through The Armory Show 2013

THE ARMORY SHOW 1913: MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS Participants: Marilyn Kushner, Francis Naumann, Gail Stavitsky Moderator: Robert StorrTHE ARMORY SHOW 1913: MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS. Participants: Marilyn Kushner, Francis Naumann, Gail Stavitsky. Moderator: Robert Storr

Florian Schmidt at Galerie Andreas HuberFlorian Schmidt at Galerie Andreas Huber

Andisheh Avini at Marianne Boesky GalleryAndisheh Avini at Marianne Boesky Gallery

Lawrence Weiner at Lisson GalleryLawrence Weiner at Lisson Gallery

Bill Viola at Kukje Gallery, Seoul/ Tina Kim Gallery, New YorkBill Viola at Kukje Gallery, Seoul/ Tina Kim Gallery, New York

Thaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin Gallery Thaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin GalleryThaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin Gallery

Anne Koskinen at Galerie AnhavaAnne Koskinen at Galerie Anhava

Susan Hefuna at Rhona Hoffman GallerySusan Hefuna at Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Cary Leibowitz at Invisible-ExportsCary Leibowitz at Invisible-Exports

Daniel Rozin at bitforms Daniel Rozin at bitforms Daniel Rozin at bitformsDaniel Rozin at bitforms

Carlos Basualdo, Daniel Birnbaum, Paul Chan, Molly Nesbit, Jan ÅmanPOSTERITY WILL HAVE A WORD TO SAY. Participants: Carlos Basualdo, Daniel Birnbaum, Paul Chan, Molly Nesbit. Moderator: Jan Åman

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armory weekend in new york city

Samuel Nigro, Horizon Lines, Drawing

Samuel Nigro, Ink on Paper, 9 x 12″, 2013

and there are events on top of events … as a reminder: the daily drawings I post are the same ones on the splash page of my website….

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