integrated seminar ii: denes’ “pascal’s perfect probability pyramid and the people paradox”

Agnes Denes “Pascal’s Perfect Probability Pyramid & The People Paradox – The Predicament –PPPPPPP” 1980/2016

(feb 6th) It’s a weird piece to put in a cafeteria. A pinched pyramid displaying an almost nihilistic scene of an infinite amount of scratchy black figures stacked on one another. It’s a large commanding piece, that lies on the far side of the room above the stairs, covering a white wall. From far away, it looks as if a 3D-Figure composed of lines lay popping out of the wall. Closer up, the shapes of the bodies become clearer. But why such dark art piece in a cafeteria? I suppose that has to do with the function of the lunchroom. The social field presented in the cafeteria is actually complex and not simplistic. The tables are split into territories – the “cool kids” have multiple tables to host all of their friends, while the loners lay on the outskirts. It’s a place to judge: to see the people in your  academic classes outside of them and assess their non-academic qualities. It’s a space where you’re forced to realize your own social standing in the grand scheme of the school, almost like knowing your place on the pyramid. Perhaps the school chose the pyramid to hover over this room to reflect the socialization happening. To reflect how isolating the experience is sometimes.

(feb 7th) I learned Pascal’s pyramid in 10th grade algebra class. The function of the pyramid is to create a sequence. The first number is one. The second row is two 1s, the third is a 1, a 2, and another 1. The fourth row is a 1, a 3, another 3, and another 1. The continuing factor in the pyramid’s construction is addition: the numbers in one row add up to form the next row, with 1s flanking the sides of each row. Looking at Denes’ adaptation, I can see her design has simplified the math behind this, but the meaning behind the algebra still lingers. Denes’ explanation is that each figure feels independent, yet is ultimately dependent on every other figure present in the form. The figures maintain their own space and area, maintaining the idea that they believe they’re independent. They believe their own existence is separate from the others around them. However, the connection with Pascal’s pyramid highlights the falsehood of this conclusion. The numbers in Pascal’s pyramid would not exist without the presence of the numbers before them; the figures in the pyramid would not be able to hold shape without the figures before them. Her choice to name the piece Pascal’s Perfect Pyramid is to bring to mind the geometric figure but to also create this mathematical metaphor about the dependency of humans on each other. The numbers could not continue with the sequence without all numbers present, and without one of the figures in Denes’ pyramid, the structure would crumble.


(feb 12th) Thinking back to the metaphor in the last journal, my questions about why this piece was placed in the Schwarz Commons area are still unsolved. The theme of the piece, which plays with both isolation, false belief, and dependency. The black color of the artwork is starkly contrasted with the bright white on the walls, which reflect sunlight coming in through the windows. The overall tone of the piece is dark, not an uplifting or positive view of the human experience. So why a common room? I reference back to my first journal, where I explained that the experience of the lunchroom is somewhat isolating. I want to further expand that to: the experience of being at The New School is isolating. I’m not sure if that’s what Denes had in mind when creating this, yet with my experience as a student, the pyramid functions as irony. The students that attend this school range vastly; there are students from many different countries, of many different genders, and apart of many different classes. Socially, these things are evident in the social sphere at the school. Money and flossiness are a big part of who gets placed into what social atmosphere, therefore class distinctions are very clear. We don’t have that much of a community here, and therefore that creates a separation between the students. We feel we are independent, we feel we’re doing our own thing, but our connection to each other is deep. We rely on each other for inspiration, for companionship, for a base for comparison.

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