March 6, 2020 — I headed uptown to see (what turned out to be) a flabbergastingly excellent exhibition of the work of Agnes Denes. Curated by Emma Enderby at The Shed, the comprehensive retrospective exhibition collected a life of dense, visionary artworks under the title Absolutes and Intermediates.
I was particularly impressed by a series called The Philosophical Drawings, large-format sheets which collect a series of her drawings on something like a diazotype / x-ray print using a process she invented. You can see one of these installed in the foreground here. This one [↓] is smaller, and called Thought Complex.
It’s from 1971 and Denes describes it as:
. . . a diagrammatic presentation of a random sample of thought processes applied to crystallography and compared to the growth of crystals. Assume that ideas are balanced momentarily by the surface tension of the mind, just long enough to sprout hairline tentacles that instantly penetrate the machinery of the brain initiating a thinking process. . . . If we could measure these processes and visualize them sequentially and dimensionally as applied to theoretical crystallography, the mind could become as scientifically predictable and depictable as polytopes.
This sheet is a surface, something like a pinboard or studio wall, which both *collects* and *conveys* Denes’ research. It is also a kind of visual philosophy. I can’t help but think about the neural networks foundational to artificial intelligence which model thinking as a collection of n-dimensional vector spaces, where any term is distinguished by a particular arrangement of values. In these models, thoughts also become something like crystals.
Agnes Denes also builds her models. In Tree Mountain — A Living Time Capsule — 11,000 Trees, 11,000 People, 400 Years are planted in a particular geometric spiral. Each tree is deeded to one particular person and passed down through a series of heirs. From 1992 – 1996, the project was realized in Ylojarvi, Finland where a mountain was contructred in a reclaimed gravel pit. Pine trees were planted, and the forest continues to evolve. Here is a drawing [↓].
As the title suggests, the work is meant to carry ideas from today into a not-yet-known future via the physical form of a strangely arranged forrest. The work is at least as much a vehicle as it is a metaphor. It is physical, practical, and concrete.
Thus, the artist emerges as a creative problem solver — sensor and sensitizer — the prophet who is also the carpenter.
Meanwhile, I was meant to come back to the show on March 11, 2020 with my wife on her birthday. COVID 19 intervened, the lockdown in New York City began, and the exhibition closed.
Continues in class . . .
April 3, 2023
The prophet who is also the carpenter


Emma Enderby