9 Fingers of Malakoff (2010)

This work was commisoned by Pavilion Projects. The following is an excerpt from the press text I wrote which sets up the initial ideas for the project.

Enroute from Paris to the Art Centre of Malakoff I saw and thought about many things.

Arriving, I was impressed with the garden within which the Art Centre is built. The architecture of this public space was inviting and private, its hospitality signaled by a series of benches flanking a tear shaped pond. Within the pond are nine fingers of pink marble that survey the park from the shallow water. These nine forms organized what I had been thinking about into a proposal: units of sculpture producing units of thought. Their existence offered a structure in which to place arguments about Anthropic measurement, Auguste Rodin, how something exists when out of site, and the metaphor of a sleeping giant embodying psychedelic naturalism

This text I’ve written, this minor narrative, is presented as an irrelevant photocopied handout having been stored within a discrete and dusty piece of storage architecture, a wooden shack on the edge of the garden property. A degree of choreography is suggested by the placement of this shack: visitors enter the garden of the art centre, see the fountain with the marble fingers, travel to the rear of the property (either by accident or purposefully), discover the text, and re-enter the garden under the auspices of a suggestive theme. A theme, whose logic, while nestled deep beneath the ground, emerges into daylight as The Nine Fingers of Malakoff.

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The Nine Fingers of Malakoff
By Zin Taylor

To begin, I will state the following as sometimes being true: things I observe above the ground are the result of a logic hidden below the ground.

This narrative is set within the French village of Malakoff, during a June afternoon, on a Sunday, in the year 2010. Departing Paris I arrived in Malakoff by Metro Subway. The station of Varenne can be found along this route, the stop garishly advertising access to the Musée Rodin; indicated monumentally by copies of the artist’s sculpture arranged upon the Metro platform. I will visit this later.

Malakoff is a Parisian suburb 4.5 kilometers from the centre of Paris. In this village there is an art centre, La Maison des arts de Malakoff. The building is located within a sheltered garden that is accessible to visitors. Within this garden is a reflecting pool. The shape of the pool is a large teardrop, intersected from the front by a lazy circle that refuses to close; a geometric collision that houses a peculiar series of forms. At the rear of this pool are nine marble fingers, rectangularly cut, and placed within a diagonal grid of three by three. Each finger is made of two identically proportioned segments measuring180 cm tall, with four equal sides of 60 cm each. Green lichen tops each segment, a photosynthetic fade recording each form’s presence in this location. At the rear of the pool is a hatch, a suggestive portal indicating an underground habitat hidden from sight.

As a visitor I cannot enter this portal.

Opening the hatch I descend beneath the pool. The two segments of marble above the ground are re-confirmed by a third segment below. A complete finger, a digit, one of nine, is presented.

Marble in its natural state presents a visual similarity to a Reservoir of Conversation. Watching the blend and fade of the material I imagine a liquid pool of pink and white communicating through color and tone as it flows underneath a layer of rock.  Evolving through time, a series of fluid relationships embedded beneath the surface solidify when met by the air. The process of mining extracts sections of this evolved conversation for use elsewhere. Separated into units of value according to an external economy, the once fluid subject of the marble’s form is edited into objects akin to obscure gestural statements. Flooring, counter tops, rolling pins, and public sculpture are examples of marble’s economy of use.

The nine marble fingers at Malakoff are from a related quarry. While existing individually these forms reference a collaborative origin through striations of pink and white. Similar to a mythological Hydra, the individual lengths share a common origin while acting of independent accord. Agreement and collaboration met with obtuse discord, collectively observed across the colored veins of this material. The third segment of this marble digit projects the origin of a hand. A nine fingered giant buried deep within this Parisian suburb.

Nestled in the palm, I look upon these nine fingers. Three identical units, four sides of 60 centimeters in width and 180 centimeters tall, create a form I now think of as a digit: a unit of measurement derived from an organic reference.

Throughout time communities have introduced units of measurement to accurately record value. Communal standardization of weight, length, and time ensured abstract representation moved from an individual’s logic towards collective agreement. Buildings could be erected through divisions of labor, goods traded accurately, and monetary value preserved and controlled once standards for value were implemented.

Ancient rules of measurement originating in the Indus Valley dating from the 4th and 3rd millennia BC develop standardized measurements within the body and the environment. Time was recorded using the sun, moon, and stars. Lengths were measured using the forearm, hand and finger. Measurements correlating to the finger register as 1 3/8 inches, or 3.4925 centimeters. Residents of the Indus Valley found the measurement of 1 3/8” to be incrementally distributed over the human body. A finger’s segment represented an Inch, then referred to as an Angula. A unit of measure 24 Angula’s (33 inches long) is called a Hasta, Kishku or Muzam. Calculated weight was controlled using elements from the environment. The carob seed was popularity used because of its consistent weight and size, its “unitness”. The measurement of the carob evolved into that of the carat. The carat is now used exclusively to calculate weight for gemstones and pearls.

Civilizations emerged through time to introduce differing standards for measurement. The larger and more influential a ruling nation was, the more widespread that system of measurement was used. New rules of measurement were adopted echoing the influence of an individual ruler. The language of a daily economy was determined by this individual’s influence then imbedded within architecture, time, and trade. Popular mythology relates the creation of units for measurement such as the inch, foot, and yard to that of an Emperor or King’s thumb, foot, and arm.

Contemporaneously, a movement away from the individual towards the thoroughly abstract concept of The Institution is signified with the introduction of standardized measurements to replace those established by a ruling class. A foot one year, was not a foot the next. Now, a foot is just a foot. These organic analogs for measurement describe the practice of Anthropic units: a process of procuring measurement using the human body as the index. The use of the hand during Medieval-times was a popular reduction of unitary reference. One finger length was the width of a palm. A hand was slightly larger.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was, amongst other things, a collector of hands. He had drawers of them. Cast hands, sculpted hands. The last work made before his death was a cast of his own two appendages.

Rodin, describing his sculpture as “Form giving rise to the idea” developed an idiosyncratic approach to constructing sculptural narrative through the assemblage of human body parts. Called Marcottage, Rodin and his assistants would cast numerous gestures of hands, feet, arms, torsos, etc… to be interchangeably layered for the building of figurative monument. A hand for one sculpture would be recycled into that of another. Rodin’s unitizing of representational form to construct his sculptures, to arrange his narratives, acknowledges a self-established system of trade used internally to address the construction of narrative utilizing an individual vocabulary of form. Rodin’s atelier shelves contained multiple versions of every body part and were arranged according to type. Finished sculptures were cast and then dissected to capture the gestures these contained for addition to his library. The more Rodin made, the more he had to draw upon. Gestures attributed to specific narratives were isolated. This approach developed a cosmology of Rodinian language with which to address a subject. His thoughts about a subject were conveyed using a material alphabet of his own design. Not only did “Form give rise to the idea”, it conveniently supplied the alphabet to spell it out.

Returning to my seat on the Paris Metro, I’m arriving at the station of Varenne.

The platform of this metro station is flanked on either side by tracks of opposing direction. Amongst advertisements for consumer products there are placed signs of Rodin’s cosmology of representation achieved through an acknowledgement of narrative within a material. Standing within this middle zone I am confronted with two, and three, meter tall versions of Rodin’s language, an object advertising an ideology located elsewhere. I’m looking at The Thinker. The sculptures are displayed alongside advertisements for consumer products and services. Signs are located at a point of transition when a passenger decides where the next destination would, or could, be: the museum, the grocery store, a service on the internet, etc… The station is a place of transfer where mental paths are made. Each of these signs, Rodin’s and the others, announce a narrative option present at the site. The meaning of each sign unfolds when it is chosen. I choose the museum. I’ll do the internet later.

Varenne, the Rodin metro stop, is the start of a thought-finger: a unit of distance determined by a person’s relationship to a subject. This particular thought-finger is 108 meters in length, the distance from the Varenne metro station to the Musée Rodin. A narrative is embedded within these two points. A thought-finger’s distance is a piece of material, a form whose exterior points have a beginning and an end. The interior of this form is suggested by what I see and contemplate during the one hundred and eight meter length of travel.

Marble exists in a fluid state when embedded beneath the ground. Fluidity possesses an unpredictable unknowing-ness. Extraction of this material solidifies its fluidity into a decisive and separate form.

Fluid = unknown

Solid = known

Solidifying through gesture, thoughts in a brain adopt a form when uttered aloud.

Thinking about Malakoff I see each finger as a character, a fashioned path of thought rising in to the air. The hand of this sleeping giant creates nine monuments to difference. Nine fingers, carved from a related material, announce their individuality when studied. A general form can become very specific when analyzed. Each marble monolith displays a veined collage of thought. Stories intertwine to produce an internal architecture for this object.

These nine forms organize what I had been thinking about into a proposal: units of thought producing units of sculpture. Their existence offers a structure in which to place the preceding information, ideas giving rise to form, The Nine Finger of Malakoff.