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This week we meet with artist and designer Jonathan Nesci at the First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana. Jonathan uses systems of design to experiment with new materials and processes, and his assignment for you invites you to do the same by combining a set of particular shapes into different variations.

INSTRUCTIONS - Present Perimeter
1. Create a work of art using the Present Perimeter System (1 hexagon, 3 half hexagons, 3 rhombuses, and 3 triangles)
2. Document your work and upload using #theartassignment
3. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Sarah also talks about how parameters and rules can release creativity in art and uses Sol LeWitt as an example.

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:
Sarah Urist Green: This episode of The Art Assignment is brought to you by Squarespace.

Today we're in Columbus, Indiana inside of First Christian Church, which was designed by famed architect Eliel Saarinen and completed in 1942. It was in the courtyard lawn outside of this church last year that designer Jonathan Nesci sited his installation of aluminum tables titled 100 Variations. 

This work was Nesci's response to this remarkable site, which employed the Golden Ratio in its design. We're going to be meeting with Jonathan and talking not only about that project, but also about his wider interest in using systems of design, like the Golden Ratio, as a starting point to experiment with new materials and processes.

He is primarily a furniture designer, who uses a variety of industrial materials and fabrication processes to create minimal and precise forms. The latest geometric system he's worked with he calls "Present Perimeter," and it's a collection of tables, mirrors, and other objects that combine a particular set of shapes into a wide range of variations.

Jonathan has found this way of using systems of constraint to be exceptionally productive, and he is going to offer us an assignment to see if this hold true for you, too.

Jonathan Nesci: My name is Jonathan Nesci, and this is your art assignment.

[Intro plays]

Coming off the "100 Variations" project, which was-- it was such a beautiful, big event that I was searching for what's next, and not knowing what's next. My son, last year, was in fourth grade. He had a fourth-grade geometry project. It started off as tangrams-- which is this really cool system of, you can kind of create anything out of tangrams. It is a known system. Kind of building blocks, where you can make whole alphabets, or you can make people on a boat. Like, it's really kind of a broad system.

The next homework assignment for my son was, the next night, was he had to combine 10 forms-- a hexagon, three half hexagons, three rhombuses, and three triangles-- to find the smallest perimeter. And they sent him home with a template, where he would have to figure out the smallest perimeter. And I didn't know how to-- like, how can I figure out that the smallest perimeter and use this template? I'll be here all day. So we, me and him, worked on it together. We drew all the shapes in AutoCAD, on the computer, and he told me which ones to make. He said, well, it could be smaller here. And then there's a command in AutoCAD where you can find the perimeter.

And when he went to bed, I went to town reconfiguring them. And they just-- there were beautiful forms coming out of these 10 shapes. So I just kept going. It was just twisting, and turning them, and reconfiguring them. And they just created this beautiful language that was unlike anything I saw before.

Your assignment is to create a work of art using in the present perimeter system. The system includes one hexagon, three half hexagons, three rhombuses, and three triangles. You can use any material, process, or skill. Bonus points if you can make a piece of furniture using the system.

Sarah: John, I love this assignment, because I love parameters.

John: Yeah, you are afraid of rules. I have to say that I also am. I mean, for instance, I really like genre in fiction writing, because there are conventions of the genre, expectations of the genre. And that limits you in some ways, but it also creates a lot of freedom. Because you can work within them and sort of know what you're supposed to do, where you're supposed to get.

Sarah: Yeah, and there are so many different ways to create things and to make art. And to just sit there at a desk and write about absolutely anything or make absolutely anything

John: Yeah.

Sarah: The possibilities are too great. So to have a set, like this, to work from, I think is really freeing.

John: So, Sarah, there've been a lot of artists over the years who've sort of worked within their own rules. Mm-hm. I'm interested to see what your art historical precedent is for the day.

Sarah: I have a couple good ones.


SARAH URIST GREEN (VOICEOVER): In the mid-1960s, Sol LeWitt began making sculptures he called structures, by focusing on the form of the cube and using it as a basic unit to apply a system, or logic, to it. Like, in 1974, he made variations of incomplete open cubes, for which he investigated all of the possible permutations of a cube not being complete. He made a diagram showing all 122 of them, and built structures that he displayed on a gridded platform. Central to the development of minimal and conceptual art, LeWitt prioritized systematic processes over so-called expression and famously said, "The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."

Triggered by an interest in heraldry and how symbols are devised to represent families, Allan McCollum explored, in the late '80s, how many unique shapes could be created by the combination of 90-degree arcs and straight lines. He cut combinations of the elements into hundreds of plastic templates and made drawings from them by hand. McCollum made thousands of these drawings, but his system was capable of producing unique works up into the billions.

Both of these artists employ rational systems that challenge our assumptions about how art should be composed, generating artworks whose significance far exceeds the simple concepts that brought them to life.

Jonathan: There are so many material possibilities. It's really any material. Which was the beauty of the system, is that it could be any scale, any material, any process. Where you can then be free to not have the form hamper your exploration. So, like, if you want to experiment with a collage, you can cut those out as templates and make a collage. Or, if you wanted to experiment with onyx, you could have it cut out of onyx. So it really kind of frees you up to then, like, really push different materials or try new things that you haven't tried before. I had these 10 forms cut out of steel. Let's rearrange them.

I think it's important to have a framework, but you can also break your own rules, which I think is fun. What's great about it is, it gives you this foundational background where you can build on, like, on the fly. The reason I can come up with the concepts so quickly, is because the foundation was already done. So if I meet a new vendor, I meet a new fabricator, I don't have to start from scratch. Like, I can build on what I already did, and then there's this constant thread through all the work. If I worked in acrylic or if I worked in aluminum, you can tell that it's my work because of the system.


This episode of The Art Assignment is brought to you by Squarespace. Squarespace is an easy way to create a website, blog, or online store for you and your ideas. Squarespace features a user-friendly interface, custom templates, and 24/7 customer support. Try Squarespace at for a special offer. Squarespace. Build it beautiful.