Tack it up
Count ’em—30,000 thumbtacks.
That’s what Frederic Tchorbadjian’s “Stainless Spin” is made of. It’s a permanent art installation at the Nevada Museum of Art.
Tchorbadjian—originally from Paris, recently from Reno, soon to be from Los Angeles—begins talking with whatever that European quality is that comes off as seriousness. But a subtle, droll sense of humor takes over. He is animated and well-spoken. He apologizes for his English, but then spins long sentences that loop off into tributaries and sub-thoughts and return neatly to their beginnings, landing squarely and relevantly on his original points, ordered maybe a little unconventionally, but remaining, all the while, grammatically intact. This works perfectly to convey the complex origin a piece of art that is lovely to look at and easy to savor.
The half-inch tacks are arranged floor-to-ceiling, around the elliptical exterior of a free-standing conference room, in a pattern that brings to mind Persian rugs, pixilated clouds, Braille text or virtual bubbles.
The pattern is based on a sequence of numbers, governed by rules, where each number indicates a direction in space, the artist says. In addition to length, width and height, the fourth direction is time.
To demonstrate, Tchorbadjian takes a sheet of paper—covered with 0s, 1s, 2s and 3s in small, black, random-looking type—and puts another piece of paper, a template, on top of it. The template has four tiny holes, through which a 0, a 1, a 2 and a 3 can be seen. The template can be placed anywhere on the page, and it still shows a 0, a 1, a 2 and a 3.
At this point, it’s easy to lose track of the math and physics. But if math and physics aren’t what you go to the art museum for, that’s fine with the artist.
The end result “is more about aesthetics than math,” Tchorbadjian says. “It’s about a reality that’s not perceptible with the eyes, some sort of absolute design. … Like a reflection or a meditation, I would say, on how the world, or matter, in a fundamental state, is organized.”
He’s not trying to prep you for the GRE. He gives viewers’ own interpretations ample credit. “I’m hoping for [people] to just look at it. … An artist has not to be concerned about the issue of interpretation,” Tchorbadjian says. “I believe … whatever people get is what it really is.”
Just like the elusive, cosmic organization it emulates, “Stainless Spin” is full of optical illusions. If you look closely, you can see yourself in the silvery, mirror-shiny tacks. Move from side to side and hundreds of fish-eye-shaped little yous will follow. Stare at the whole thing for a moment, and the depth perception can change; the dark-red wall can recede back a little, or the tacks can start to looks like holes. (These observations are all made without chemical enhancement of any sort.) The dots change color, depending on whether they’re reflecting blue sky from a window on the right or black metal from a staffer’s cubicle to the back.
As with most things, what "Stainless Spin" looks like depends on how, and from what perspective, you look at it. "This is the dynamic," Tchorbadjian says, "to let the work have a life of its own."