Evolution of an Idea: “Reaching for the Stars”

Evolution of an Idea: “Reaching for the Stars”

Evolution of an Idea: “Reaching For the Stars”

By Doug Czor

Several years ago, an art gallery owner asked me to write the story of my public art sculpture, “Reaching for the Stars,” and describe how it came into being.  The sculpture’s birth took place in my studio on Albuquerque’s West Mesa desert through the uncommon marriage of art, science, technology, and a spiritual quest.  Although the sculpture was physically completed in 2003, many questions remain that are central to the Philosophy of Mind within the field of Cognitive Science.  Some of the ideas that I was thinking about during the design phase of this sculpture were: If Art has come to symbolize the nature of humanity, how might we utilize art to design new technology and infrastructure that will gently take us into a better future?  If the integration of Cognitive Science – the combination of psychology, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, linguistics, neuroscience, anthropology, and philosophy into the design of art could turn around and produce the tools we need to improve the understanding of human thinking, would it improve the world to come and the survival of humanity?  By way of Post Conceptual Art, we have a means to more deeply examine these ideas and find our pathway up the mountain.

“Reaching for the Stars”

Design Philosophy:  I feel that the idea of “Reaching for the Stars” spiritually preexisted before I was ever born.  We find similar ideas of towers into the sky throughout history.  I wanted to create my version of this idea, building an outdoor steel sculpture that expressed my feelings for the future of humanity.  I believe the spirit of this idea chose me to bring it again into existence.  As a retired scientist, I knew that historically from the beginning, humanity all over the planet has been beaten down many times by catastrophic geologic and cosmic events.  Just as we rose to some state of civilization, a comet strike, mega-volcanic event, plague, or some mistaken philosophy devastated us back centuries.  I think that if our planet was not located in such a dangerous orbital location, and we had not been born with an all too powerful Ego, we would, by this time, already have ventured into space and erected cities orbiting around the Sun.  By now, we would have conquered cancer and most other diseases.  We would have rescued the great whales and elephants.  I am concerned about how far back we have fallen, so I design and build sculpture to inspire the inquisitive side of humanity.  I feel that we still reside in the Dark Ages and have not yet emerged into the Age of Enlightenment.  During the design phase, I hoped that this sculpture might encourage young people to search for methods and a philosophy of mind that will save humanity and the ecosystems of our planet, perhaps to even expand our home among the stars.


Spiritual Design Methods:  In the creation of a new design, a good starting place for me is meditation or prayer; going inward to that infinite place within the heart and mind that I believe is connected to the universe.  For me, ideas are always percolating up out of the unconscious upon waking in the morning.  I am not sure how this works; it just does.  During the transition up from a deep sleep into a natural wakefulness, there exists for me a semiconscious or meditative state where I feel the overlap of the subconscious with consciousness.  This state of mind has proven for me to be a valuable problem-solving tool, as difficult questions can be more deeply examined.  Sometimes the answer comes directly, and some questions take days, or years.  I have read that the subconscious mind has a greater problem-solving capacity than our consciousness.  Consciousness is a quick reaction component of our mind.  The subconscious includes our entire neural network from our brain all the way through our nerve-rich thoracic interior to the tips of our fingers and toes.  It is possible that not just the brain, but our entire neural network, senses, processes, remembers, and reasons.

On the microscopic level of nerve chemistry and physics, it is possible that by way of the quantum physics of molecules that makeup our nerves, information from the universe around us can not only be received and processed, but also from our cells sent outward.  If one places a photomultiplier sensor next to living cells, light emitted by molecules within the living cell can be detected.  There are very fine tubes within and between cells that transmit this light, as a fiberoptic communication network between cells and tissues.  Complex molecules within the cells of many lifeforms receive and emit light.   The emitted light is very faint and not visible to the unaided eye.  We have known for some time that sunlight produces vitamin D in our skin, however this is not the only photochemical reaction.  We are in a way, beings of light.  Scientists are now researching how certain wavelengths of light can heal by getting into the human cellular fiberoptic communication network.  They have also found within plant cells quantum dots that emit light.  It is interesting that some Doctors are by prescription sending people into the forest for repeated doses of the forest life.  I wonder what light wave communications our cells receive from the many cells of the forest.  The Cherokee Native American rite of passage for a young one to receive at a certain age is to sit blindfolded in the forest overnight.  We are not separate from nature and the universe.  If we open our mind and listen, what could we learn?

Consider also that our entire subconscious neural network is a much larger computational network than the small array we call the conscious mind.  When we sleep, consciousness shuts down, but the subconscious remains awake to listen, play, worry, and if we ask it, problem solve and process information.  It does much more than just dream.  For instance, while we sleep, the subconscious listens through our same ears, yet to a much higher degree of signal processing than during the daytime to remove noise to the degree where we can hear at least ten times further.  Our ancient prepaleolithic habitat gave us the auditory ability to processes incoming neural impulses with signal recognition programs, noise filters, and many kinds of data-enhancing biological software.  Anthropologists theorize that we have inherited this ability from our ancient ancestors who survived our main predator – the nocturnal Jaguar and other large cats.  If we are able to tap into this vast subconscious neural network to solve sculpture design problems, what revelations could emerge?  Would they be unique to us, or perhaps in addition come from the intelligence of nature and the universe?  Some scientists believe the galaxies, stars, and planets, all held together in a giant package of information where the position, motion, momentum, gravity, quantum entanglement, and many more unknown forces, combined are a great computer.  Since we are physically within and part of this computer, could we tap into its flow of information, and if so, what would our awakening inquiry receive?

The Sphere:

During the construction of “Reaching for the Stars,” I trusted the problem-solving subconscious.  One case in point:  I was having great difficulty deciding between two companies, one in Minnesota and another in New Zealand, both of which fabricated stainless steel spheres.  Using completely different methods, each company’s approach was sufficient and about the same cost.  Which company to choose was beyond my consciousness to solve.  Several days later, waking one morning upon that dream-shore between the unconscious and consciousness, the answer came that I should choose the company that used the spun metal technique.  The Minnesota company was spinning stainless steel sheets on a large metal lathe where tools formed 1/8th inch thick stainless-steel sheet over a convex mold into hemispherical shape.  Two hemispheres, thus produced, were welded into a sphere, ground, and polished.  I had no idea why this was important until well after the sculpture was installed, painted, and photographed.

Reaching for the stars; Doug Czor The answer from the subconscious and its importance revealed itself during the first photographic documentation session at the end of the project.  It turned out that the surface of the sphere was slightly rippled from the hand tools unevenly pressing the spinning metal into shape.  This human/machine signature of ripples on the surface of the sphere reflected sunlight as mysterious rings of light onto the two support towers, adding an entirely new and beautiful metaphor.  If I had used the other company’s perfectly smooth sphere, the fingerprint-like light rings would never have appeared.  The 41-inch-tall steel maquette did not show the rings because the 1.5-inch stainless steel ball was ground and polished perfectly smooth.  So, where did the subconscious obtain the information for me to make the correct decision?    Creativity found within both the heart and mind is an emergent property of all the various parts of our neural network.  Is this synergy sophisticated enough to predict what action to take when we have no previous experience, or do we obtain information from higher terrain?

Scientific Design Methods:  The brain has many components, each being used at different times, depending on the task.  I try to use as many parts of the mind as possible to obtain a type of end result synergism or emergent state that hopefully propels the artwork to a higher level.  To start, I enjoy researching, drawing, and writing about the design to engage the visual part of the mind.  By adding conversations with friends or making a presentation before an audience, the auditory side comes into play.  Several times while describing final plans to a client, some small flaw in the design became apparent that I missed drawing in the silent studio.  Of course, intuitive, symbolic, and the fantasy-oriented mental tools can be accessed visually through sketching and model building; however, I pay close attention to the verbal and writing components as well.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) greatly streamlined the conversion of the sketch into steel plate cutouts.  During the engineering phase, a skilled draftsman collected points along my drawing, and applied various CAD functions to form a computer graphic.  Once the design was transferred into the computer data base, the engineer could apply further functions to determine the correct thickness of steel that would safely stand up to elements of weather, sunlight heating expansion-contraction, and earth movements.  However, the attachment means for the sphere to the towers required a unique and creative approach.  One serious safety concern was how to keep the sphere after many years of metal fatigue from breaking loose and falling on a bystander.  Both of the two towers not only flex and move with the wind, they also unevenly expand and contract due to heating as the Sun moves across the sky.  I first fabricated and tested a wood and plastic scale model of the attachment means and presented it to the engineer for study.  In this case, one cannot just weld the sphere to the towers because even the best steel alloys after flexing thousands of times over 60 years will develop fatigue cracks and allow the sphere to break loose.  I thought about how Eskimo dog sleds can stand up to the constant flexing of joints, as the sled moves over uneven snow and ice.  If one were to mistakenly fabricate a dog sled with joints fixed solid by screws, tongue and grove, epoxy, or whatever, the sled would never survive ten miles of travel before it broke apart.  Authentic dog sled member joints are flexible and held together with raw hide bindings.  The trick to holding the sphere in place was to design a flexible joint similar to the ball and socket of the human hip or shoulder.

It is interesting how architects and engineers design from nature.  I have read that neuroscientists are creating cybernetic computational systems that simulate our neural networks.  I am hopeful that we reach an era where we develop intelligent systems that in turn enhance our ability to design and build far beyond what we are capable of today.  However, at the same time, I pray that cybernetics and artificial intelligence (AI) will not overwhelm and take away our freedoms.  How can we use these emerging tools to save the rain forests and all that live within?  How can we use AI to grow agricultural crops without herbicides and pesticides, or stop overfishing?

Defense of the paper Notebook:  Sketching and assembling mixed media montages helps me focus on the design process.  In the beginning of the Reaching For the Stars project, I started with sketches of simple overlapping triangles, rectangles, and circles.  By stretching and pulling the objects different ways, I was able to maneuver them into a design that also fit engineering and cost constraints of an idea that would become a successful public art sculpture.  Here we are in the Digital Age, and I still resist the transition to full computer mode.  I believe I am able to problem solve and create by sketching on paper far better than by way of the computer monitor screen.  Even the printout of text on paper, for instance, in a complicated business letter is for me more easily edited, as opposed to working solely on the monitor.  I suspect the problem is with the monitor being very two dimensional, whereas paper is actually quite three dimensional with texture, wrinkles, and curvature.  If reading text or drawing on paper stimulates a greater part of our mind because it must create a 3D model in order to see and understand, might this approach be extended to other forms of creativity and comprehension?

Another argument for the paper notebook is that as great and advanced we think our civilization to be during the Digital Age, there is no guarantee our history will be preserved when some natural or man-made disaster disrupts civilization.  If the servers go down and we do not have paper books, how prolonged the setback before we are able to rebuild?  Might the scribe and the artist once again speed the recovery of civilization?

“Reaching For the Stars” Notebook Sections:

Reaching for the stars; Doug CzorReaching for the stars; Doug Czor

Reaching for the stars; Doug CzorReaching for the stars; Doug Czor

Marketing:  The design of “Reaching for the Stars” was inspired and brought into being, as a statement about humanity reaching out to the planets.  After the steel maquette was finished, photographed, and analyzed, I gradually started the search for a buyer of the full-scale version.  I made presentations to Albuquerque’s Explora Science Center and various other applications for public art commissions around New Mexico.  During the late 1990s, it required about 12 or more applications by an artist to obtain one public art commission.  A leadership college in Roswell, New Mexico, was the most interested party because they were looking for sculptural metaphors about achieving high goals and going the extra mile.  I believe the title of a work also has a lot to do with a successful sale.  Perhaps, some of Roswell’s history had some influence on the acceptance of my design.  Dr. Robert Goddard built and flew his invention of the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket for many years on the outskirts of Roswell.

Reaching for the stars; Doug CzorSteel Maquette, 41 inches x 24 inches

Construction and Installation:  The art selection committee chose my design, triggering the process of scaling up the maquette with an engineering company and searching for quotes from steel machine shops.  In the beginning, I had no idea the project would become my greatest challenge.  I received the first payment and began work with the engineering company.  Yet a small but powerful group of college personnel on campus opposed my design, claiming the art selection committee did not have the right to choose the artwork while the college Dean was away on business.  Their preference was a bronze horse and rider, rearing up.  The disagreement was classic, the conflict between traditional bronze and contemporary sculpture.  Ultimately, the entire student body was asked to vote and break the stalemate.  The design of “Reaching for the Stars” won with unanimous support.  The student spokeswoman stated that they voted for the contemporary sculpture because, “it represented their era, and they did not want a sculpture that represented the history of a hundred years ago.”  But even after this vote of confidence, the opposition continued various types of interference.  In order to keep focused and not distracted by politics, I meditated before showing up on the job each day.  I practiced a combination of Zen and East Indian meditations.

Conversing With the Universe

Fortunately, the city of Roswell had everything I needed:  engineering design firm, steel fabrication shop, construction company, concrete foundation contractor, crane owner, and painters.   I was allowed to work at the steel fabrication shop as long as the sculpture was positioned outside the building.  Each tower weighed about 1.5 tons, so the shop moved the towers around for me as work progressed.  One day, the two steel towers were standing up next to each other, and I realized an interesting interaction with the sky.  I reclined between them to photograph the communion.  An outdoor sculpture includes the surrounding sky, trees, and wind.  They are one.

Conversing with the Universe; Doug Czor Many times upon arrival in Roswell and before stepping onto college grounds, I practiced a few short meditations, and then I was ready.

We have within us the natural drive to create and achieve some higher state of humanity. It is possible for post conceptual art to enhance Cognitive Science, psychology, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology and philosophy, to form new technology, infrastructure, and many new scientific fields.  Look at how the biological drawings of Charles Darwin helped usher into humanity the means to protect our DNA from disease and even form barriers against racism.  Post Conceptual art and art of many kinds, by uniting the heart and mind are not only for celebrating the rise of humanity; they are also a means by which humanity will survive.

“Reaching For the Stars”, originally installed in 2003 on the grounds of New Mexico Military Institute.  In 2022 it was restored, repainted, and moved across town onto the campus of Eastern New Mexico University.  About 150 residents attended the Art Gala opening, and it was for me a very happy event to again see and touch my old friend.

Reaching for the stars; Doug CzortReaching for the stars; Doug Czor

Reaching for the stars; Doug CzorReaching for the stars; Doug Czor