Sam Agnew is an artist working with speculation, the symbolic construction of space, object-oriented ontologies, and the silence of language. He believes in the soul. He sees objects as vessels for a collective memory. For example, the iconographical history of the giant squid--its ability to evade human rationalization-- has made it a space for human pathos.






Proposition A is a video and sculpture installation located inside the Anderson gallery, which serves as a speculation on the symbolic construction of space. The aspiration of new architecture is something like utopia: a paradoxical system, oscillating between motion and statis, between the silence of language and the nonsilence of things.
     My video follows a comparative structure: language-objects from childhood bedrooms, a high-speed train entering and exiting pixelated worlds in a constant blur, a now-defunct building located in New Haven set against the aspirational writings of its architect. Here I am comparing the symbolic (linguistic) possibility of imagined space to its material (literal) impossibility, and how these opposing realities may affect lived-experience. Set in a loop, the video serves as a constant reification of new space. On the opposing wall I place a reproduction of a George Henry Durrie painting (1861) to offer an alternative rendition of New Haven’s spatiotemporality, one perpetually “frozen” within the pastoral.
     The installation itself is a representation of the transmutable materiality of imagined space- architectural facades of marble to concrete, from concrete to plastic, from plastic to CGI, and so forth. Material deficiencies make space perceivably unliveable or elastic.
      The exhibit is circled by a wall of beeswax blocks. The insignia on each block resembles an anthropomorphized bee in the stance of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man.’ Like how ‘Vitruvian Man’ signified an architecture taken from the male body, these ‘Vitruvian Bees’ signify an architecture taken from anthropomorphized bees. As symbols, bees have inspired a kind of utopian thinking around architecture (Vessel in Hudson Yards). But in practice, the human construction of space kills bees (pesticides), and the bee constuction of space kills humans (the recent suicide at Vessel in Hudson Yards). Thus my letter ‘A’— a human symbol of universality and structure — cast entirely in honey, will inevitably melt.
     Antithetical to Proposition A is Proposition B, a sculpture and performance installation located in the back courtyard of the SMFA. It serves as a speculation on the dreary state of nature in an urban setting.
      The centerpieces of this installation are two readymade “Verti-blocks” (1775 lb each). In an industrial context, Verti-blocks are used to construct colossal retaining walls which redistribute land. Their front face is cast in a remarkable stone facade, while their back reveals a utilitarian concrete. Their back is concealed by displaced soil while their front remains indistinguishable from natural stone. Thus they are able to manipulate physical space while reconstituting our material-perception of Nature. A series of actual rocks were cast in Polyurethane rubber and rest underneath the weight of the Verti-blocks. This type of rubber is typically used to mold the stone-facade onto the Verti-blocks. In a symbolic sense, the Verti-blocks are now crushing the material ‘nature’ which produced them (and the rocks eerily resemble a human skin). Balloons reciting Phaedrus attempt to uplift the Vertiblocks but fail.
      A choreographed performance will take place atop the Vertiblocks the day of the exhibition. A climber moves around the two Verti-blocks, suspending his body from the ground. Climbing holds (abstractions of stone) have been drilled onto the Verti-blocks’ surfaces for the performance. Climbing holds are byproducts of the fantasy of the climber; they are commodities made from the desire to conquer the landscape and experience the sublime. But the climber experiences no sublime as he perpetually clambers over this ‘new nature’, his actions fail to bring him any place other than the place he already knows.


Mark