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Plexus International 1994
NYU Ph.D Study on Plexus Black Box

The art education PhD. study was started by Sandro Dernini in 1986, at the New York University Art and Art Professions Dept. It had the purpose to provide an aesthetic interpretation of "Plexus Black Box" as well as a comprehensive historical account of  Plexus activities. The NYU PhD. Dissertation Committee was made by David W. Ecker (chairperson), Angiola Churchill and John V. Gilbert. The assumption of the inquiry, was that a more participatory process of understanding of community-based art experiences was invaluable in developing local and global alternative strategies for the reinforcement of mutual respect necessary to cohabit with diversity, and enhancing the advancement of art as a paramount resource for the well being of humankind. As an insider of the project under study, Sandro Dernini, applied David W. Ecker's model of "The Artist as Researcher." Following the John Dewey's Art as Experience perspective, he presented an "insider" aesthetic understanding of  Plexus Black Box as a community-based art form, combining emic procedures with hermeneutic and deconstructionist interpretative methods. To accomplish such a hermeneutical task, he applied the "double writing" model employed by the deconstructionist Jacques Derrida in "Margins of Philosophy", and the interpretative perspectives employed by Alfred Schutz in "Reflections on the Problem of Relevance". On April 9 of 1994 , at the Alfa Diallo's House of the Originals, 544 East 13th Street, in the Lower East Side, Sandro Dernini, as an artist as researcher, organized  for his NYU Ph.D. dissertation the opening of the two boxes sealed at the closing event of the 1993 NYU Rosenberg Gallery Show. The purpose was to produce an inventory of what was inside and to start to produce a reflexive narrative description of  Plexus Black Box, the project under his Ph.D study in art education at New York University.  The boxes were opened, at 3PM, by Jose Rodriguez, Luis Vergara, Frank Pio and John Shuttleworth, who participated in the 1993 Plexus Black Box closing event at the NYU Rosenberg Gallery. The first box was a plastic grey garbage cylinder container, 21 inches diameter  x 27 inches high, bounded by transparent plastic food saver sheets. It contained the records related to the NYU Ph.D. research conducted by Sandro Dernini. The second box was a wood, light brown, square box, 19 inches x 20 inches  w 27 inches. Dernini explained to the participants the methodological process he intended to follow in making this inventory by placing a little rounded white label with a progressive number on top of each item or group of items, to be reported on his current phenomenological notebook-diary. Louis Vergara wrote the inventory and Frank Pio placed the labels and to write on top of the them the numbers. Then, Sandro started to pick up the items from the boxes and passed to John Shuttleworth to be individually or in group rapped with transparent plastic food saver sheets. He showed it to Vergara, who named the item and gave a number. After,  Shuttleworth passed it to Pio, who placed the label and wrote the number on it. 

Because of the quantity of papers, not properly packaged in the boxes, and the limited timeframe available from the participants, it was decided that Dernini could start to take from the box under inventory group of papers, bounded together with plastic a saver food sheet and numbered as a single item. Also because of this limited available timeframe, Louis Vergara named each item with a short identification, without any particular description. The first draft inventory ended at 6.00PM. Frank Pio left around 6.30PM bringing with him the items from Box II, number 5 (Ray Kelly’s Icosahedron sculpture) and number 33 (American Indian Chief Statue), as relevant relics for the upcoming Plexus Black Box installation that he as curator was preparing for the NYU Art Dept. to be presented on June 1994 at the University of Cagliari during the program  “Art & Science Today: The Role of Imagination” The boxes were left opened in a corner of Alfa Diallo’s place.  by the artist as researcher who gave the number 101 to it.To Alfa Diallo’s House of the Originals, on Sunday April 10, Sandro Dernini came back and noted some items were left out from the inventory. Therefore, from 5.15PM to 8.23PM, he placed the number 96 on the T-Shirt Journal Global Village, produced, in Rome in July 1993, by one of the founders of the 1990 Plexus Telematic Team, Glauco Benigni for Mc Luhan & Co.,  as a contribution to the effort to create work opportunities for the non European immigrants community in Italy. As numbers 97,  98 and  99 he numbered the wood box II, and Alfa Diallo’s poems “The Box” and “Loisada”. As number 100 it was numbered the original artwork used for the flier of the NYU Rosenberg Show “The Living Plexus Black Box of the Voyage of the Elisabeth: A Contract to Be Negotiated” with a photo in colour of the Elisabeth boat. A Polaroid of Assane M’Baye, made by Alessandro Figurelli during the 1987 Plexus event “Il Serpente di Pietra”  in Sardinia, was the last item identified, with the number 101. 

From that moment, Sandro  begun to use a deconstruction approach to identify the relevant elements for his phenomenological reduction necessary to write his reflexive narrative description of the project under study and of his experience. How to start to deal with the items, how? Why? What to touch first? He decided to use a serendipity criteria driven by his stock of knowledge (A. Schutz) to start to deal with the problem of such a mess by bringing out from the Box I some items and starting from them, to report step by step his procedure on his phenomenological notebook-diary, see notebook. Sandro, following the David Ecker’s model the artist/researcher, started to create a series of logo-books made by images and texts related to his phenomenological experience, made “in the first person” as object as well as subject of his inquiry. His next step was to follow through the appearance of their items number on the researcher’s phenomenological notebook-diary, the relevant use or not of these items in the ongoing living process of Plexus in evolution and of its Black Box project in development.  During this first approach, the researcher noted that there was a confusion in the numeration given before, because it was not a distinction in the numbers belonged to the Box I or to Box II.  The researcher corrected it by numbering with the letter A the numbers from Box I, and with the letter B those from Box II. Also he started an exponential numeration to identify an individual item coming from a group of items identified with a single number. The researcher left Alfa’s place, on April 10, at 6.30PM with item 99, the “Loisada” poem by Alfa Diallo.  A third taking out of items by the researcher was made by the researcher on April 13, at 8.45PM, with a black bag full of the items of the Box I. The day after, April 14, he went back to the House of the Originals at 3.00PM and brought out to his NYU office, inside David Ecker’s office, in the 6th floor of the NYU Barney Bldg , the item 30, Andrea Grassi’s “Conversation/Reconciliation”, a sculpture in a box;  the item 98, the flyer with Alfa Diallo’s poem “The Box”. After, he came back again at 5.15PM  and he carried out the item 97, the wood box, full of the items of the Box II, and he carried it to his NYU office. There, the items of Box I and of Box II were mixed together as one Plexus Black Box to be delivered as an art exhibition on June 6, 1994, to the University of Cagliari.  Some items because of their current use, living parts, were taken out by the researcher, who placed a number on them as part of his methodological phenomenological deconstruction process, which was interrupted on April 14.During the month of April and May, the researcher worked with John Torreano, director of NYU Studio and Painting program of the Art Dept., who was supervising as a departmental project, the travelling exhibition of the 1993 NYU Graduate Summer Institute, referred to as “Plexus Black Box Display,” to become a model for many future “Plexus Black Box” exchanges, to be made in the most effective and economically feasible way, within the complexity of the project.  Leonard Lehrer, chairman of the Art and Art Professions Department, had agreed to give a small budget for it. Gerry Snyder, Director of the NYU Summer Program of the Art Dept, was responsible for editing the objects to be included in the Box.   Kathleen MacQueen was in charge to reduce the items in an economically feasible and artistically meaningful portable format, to function properly and at the same time to maintain the aesthetic quality and cultural purpose of the travelling project, to be delivered in so short time to the University of Cagliari and within the very limited budget of 650 dollars. Frank Pio helped as curator to understand then how to install it. This travelling exhibition was planned to travel, first,  to Sardinia, and to be exhibited, from June 6-12, at the University of Cagliari. On May 2, , at the Critique Room on the 6th floor of the NYU Barney building,  as part of the Summer Institute, it was organized by John Torreano a meeting presentation to provide a better understanding of the travelling exhibition as well as of  Art, Well Being and Reconciliation Project, with Sandro Dernini making a small talk on its history. For that meeting, Sandro prepared a display of “Plexus Black Box “records and relics carried back from Alfa Diallo’s House of the Originals. Gerry Snyder and Kathleen MacQueen decided in the end, for the budget limitation, to produce an exhibition display of the Plexus Black Box made by 200 laminated photocopies in colour, selected from a random of photos, without a precise storyline, made during the 1993 activities of the NYU Lower East Side Summer Institute of Living Traditions in Art and from Sandro Dernini’s phenomenological documentation.Therefore, all originals items from Box I and Box II, not useful anymore, except of item 33B (the American Indian Chief) and item 55B (the Nuraghic bronze statuette), were  compressed together by Dernini into the wood box,  the Box II,  to be carried back to the Lower East Side community. Then, on May 31, wood box, full of mixed Plexus records and relics, was carried by David Boyle to the event “ Art & Science Today: The Role of Imagination” held in Cagliari, Sardinia. On June 3, Sandro Dernini arrived in Cagliari bringing with him the item 5B, the Bucky Fuller icosahedron by Ray Kelly. Already David Boyle and Michele Bartonomen were there, while David Ecker landed on June 5. David Ecker carried with him: two 28” x 10” portfolio black boxes, with inside, each one, 100 hard laminated sheets, with written on top the cover, in one “Plexus”, and in the other one “Black Box”; He had also the item 33B (American Indian Chief statuette) and the item 55B (the Nuraghic warrior bronze statuette), a 100 feet long black cord, an envelope with letterset letters, a letter of instructions by Frank Pio how the show had to be installed and how to hung up the images, using the black cord and some black clips.

From the presentation of the Plexus Black Box Show by the NYU Art and Art Professions Dept:

This exhibition integrates the Department of Art and Art Professions’ Graduate Student’s involvement in the “1993 NYU Summer Institute of Living Traditions in Art”  with the artistic and cultural resources of the Lower East Side Community of Manhattan and Plexus International. The focus of this collaboration between New York University, the Lower East Side Community and Plexus International was to devise strategies for the advancement, promotion and preservation of artistic and cultural traditions of the Lower East Side of New York City.  This exhibition was curated by prof. John Torreano and Frank Pio, and it was organized by prof. David Ecker, Sandro Dernini, prof. John Torreano, Gerry Snyder, Frank Pio and Kathleen MacQueen.

On Saturday June 18, as closing act of “Art & Science Today: The Role of Imagination” at 0.33PM, Sandro Dernini, while was repackaging Plexus items into the wood box, as part of his Plexus Black Box phenomenological deconstruction process, identified the item 16B, the book by the Rockfeller Foundation “Toward the Well Being of the Humankind”,  as relevant item in the development of the Plexus Well Being and Reconciliation project. Then Dernini, as an artists as researcher, on July 14, at 7.45PM, at Franco Meloni’s house, watched the video made on June 18 at the Cittadella dei Musei when he was repackaging the Plexus Black Box and he identified as relevant items the number 29B, the magic box by Aaron Barr; the number 1B, the Plexus money by Micaela Serino; and the 82B the Open Call for Reconciliation of Carloforte. Anna Saba, who had transcript the text of the S.O.S. Marconi Open Call for Freedom of Communication on a sheet as a work of art, gave it to Sandro to be carried together with the toy boat.  The day after, on July 15, from 3.00PM to 4.00PM, at Franco Meloni’s office in the Physics Dept. , he read and printed all document files contained in  the computer disk, item 28A.  The same day, at 5.00PM, he visit Gaetano Brundu’s studio to examine the Plexus Black Box made by Plexus International Storage. He presented to him his NYU Ph.D. dissertation proposal and his related letter requesting participation from a selected group of historical Plexus players. Geatano Brundu explained that there was not a Plexus Black Box made by Plexus International Storage, because the collaboration with the Department of Physics was not yet fully developed but instead there was a  Plexus International Storage archive that he showed to Sandro Dernini. It was made by 65 blu folder each one dedicated to an artist in the first person who played in Plexus events. 7 yellow folder, dedicated each one to the following specific Plexus events: 1) New York 1985 Goya Time; 2) New York 1985 Purgatorio Time; 3) New York 1986, Eve Art Opera; 4) Cagliari 1986 La Prima Pietra (The First Stone); 5) Cagliari 1987 Bring Your Serpent; 6) Gavoi 1987 Il Serpente di Pietra; 7) Cagliari 1991 Plexus Storage. There were also 7 boxes full of  Plexus records and relics. Sandro Dernini identified with the letter C this archive and placed the number C1 on the George Chaikin’s book “ Hadamard Transform Optic”, dedicated  to Ralston Farina.  Then he placed the number 1C1 on the flier “Escape from Purgatorio” from the show held in 1984 at the Shuttle Theatre by Ralston Farina.  Then he reported it on his phenomenological notebook with the comment “Fuga dal tempo-gravità” (Escape from time-gravity). The number 1C2 was placed on the photocopy of the cover image of the book “The Riddle of Gravitation” by Peter G. Bergmann combined with a graphic representation of George Chaikin’s retina blueprint. On his notebook-diary, next to the number  1C2  Sandro Dernini wrote: “Time Art –Escape from Gravity- Colombina Retina”. The number 1C3 was placed on the flier of the Ralston Farina’s performance “An Illustrated Non-Lecture on the Phenomenology of my Avant Garde Aesthetics”,  made on May 8, 1980, in New York at the Kitchen.

On August 3, at 11.15AM, in the harbour of Carloforte, in the island of San Pietro, he collected the Plexus Black Box on board the Elisabeth boat.  He took an old family black wood box, with inside the old book “Colombo” by Ettore Janni, that he was given to him on 21 October 1990 by the father Dario of Franco Meloni. There was also inside a photocopy in colour of a red coral tree an the back of the Don Cherry Buddha metal statuette with next a smaller copy of a similar Buddha metal statuette of Maria Pia Marsala and a plastic green serpent toy. Inside, there were also a copy in Italian of the 1992 Columbus Reconciliation Open Call of Carloforte and a copy of the 1991 letter of the Mayor of Carloforte to the Scientific Committee of the 1992 Columbus Consortium. Then he got the painted wood cylinder, “Made in the 80’s for the 90’s”, with on top of its cover three Campbell Soup Cans, leftover from those he made on the occasion of the 1988 Metateatro Plexus Manifesto Art Slavery Group Shot, painted on top in white, with ten liras Italian money coin glued on top and signed by Giancarlo Schiaffini, Pippo di Marca and Massimo Sarchielli. At the center of the cover, on top the brochure presentation by the Whitney Museum of the 1988 exhibition “Made in the Sixties”, there was a glued Goya can of  red kidney beans, open and full of Plexus art money of 1000 liras bills, bounded by Micaela Serino together with a written ring “Art Journey Mythology”. There was also a small black stone incised by Ken Hiratsuka with his “One Line” signature. On the cover’s border, there were glued a small yellow plastic toy boat and a small plastic jeep car toy, with on its front a cobra serpent, carrying on the back a small stone with the shape of an heart, followed by a small blue plastic pre-historical dinosaur. Inside, the cylinder wood box was full of Plexus relics from Plexus International Storage. Before to leave the Elisabeth boat, he ritually played homage to the Don Cherry’s Buddha statuette, in the captain pilot cabin of his brother Carlo Dernini. Then he carried the two boxes to his mother house in Cagliari to make an inventory of them.

On July 23, he went in Rome to visit Giancarlo Schiaffini and at his garage, at 7.45PM, he picked up two suitcases, full of Plexus records from 1982 to 1991, with a pre-historia folder, that he left to him in March 1993 when he closed his house in Trastevere to move in New York. Few days after, in Cagliari,he started to organize collected records and relics in a chronological order, following the methodological approach as pointed out  by Barzum and Graff in their “The Modern Researcher”. Because of the great quantity of data, he realized that was not feasible to make a proper inventory of  it, within the timeframe to conclude his Ph.D. dissertation. Therefore he stopped this kind of  inventory. He continued  his closing reading of Plexus relics and records as a deconstruction approach by reporting on his phenomenological notebook – diary only those relevant items, selected by his stock of knowledge (A. Schutz) that was context-bounded by the specific circumstances of time-space under which his research was made. He used a marker with colour red and an other one with colour yellow to identify different  level of relevance in the primary sources under study. He examined all Plexus photos, video tapes in Italian standard and audio tapes. He studied 3153 pictures, 3888 photo negatives, 26 video tapes and 15 audio tapes. Many images that he examined showed recalling images from other previous Plexus events.  On October 24, at his mother’s house, to respect the timetable of his Ph.D. dissertation, he reduced his deconstruction phenomenological approach only to items of the sealed boxes from the 1993 NYU Show.  Therefore, on October 26, at 010AM,  starting with item A1, he begun to identify which items from Box I and Box II were relevant for the project under inquiry and from these selected items who were the relevant Plexus players to be contacted  as primary sources of the project under study.


Due to the large number of Plexus participants living in different parts of the world, with his NYU Dissertation Committee, he agreed also to delimit the collection and interpretation of the recollections of those identified from the two boxes sealed at the NYU Rosenberg Gallery.

From this deconstruction approach he started to write a reflexive narrative description of the relevant features as living components of the Living Plexus Black Box, sealed in 1993 at the NYU Rosenberg Gallery Show. By producing this reflexive narrative description he underlined in his phenomenological notebook – diary that he was aware, by recalling the “Principle of Mechanics of Henrich Hertz” that anyway the sum of the description of these individual relevant features had to be less than the whole Plexus project. This consideration brought him to give a phenomenological relevance to items 6A, 13A , 16A and 27A related to “Il Vivisezionato del 500” (The alive-sectioned body of the ‘500) and how the study of the measurement of the function of the human body was/is made following the positivistic traditional Western School of Medicine, made by cutting in single parts the body and then by describing each part and then by putting together all data in order to have the picture of the whole.  Sandro Dernini as an artist as researcher refused this approach as not methodological proper for the  Plexus case because of its interdependent and synergetic parts. For this reason he decided that the deconstruction was the appropriate methodological approach for his inquiry in order also to attack the division between object and subject made by the Western culture.His phenomenological reports allowed him to start to practice a continuous phenomenological exercise by writing notes on Plexus from his experience as a New York University student, as well as a graduate assistant of Angiola Churchill, co-director of  I.C.A.S.A. (International Center for Advance Studies in Arts) of New York University, and, after, as graduate assistant  of David Ecker for NYU Summer Institute. Both trainings allowed him to become more familiar with current issues in art, which turned out to be very useful for his “insider” understanding of the “artworld”.

From the Sandro Dernini’s Phenomenological Notebook:

23s report n. ? + 34, November 6, 1994 AD, Cagliari, 10:25 am,

Defining the coordinates of references of my Plexus journey.“MI-DENTRO-MI-FUORI” (myself-inside-myself-outside). This quote from an art work by Cicci Borghi recalled to me the following quote from the paper “Art and Science Today: The Role of Imagination” by David Ecker, presented in 1994: “On this experiment, we discover that neither you nor I, nor artists, scientists, psychologists, logicians--nobody-- is free to imagine, remember, depict, portray, represent, photograph, measure, or simply observe an object that is both blue and not-blue”. ”.  Like I cannot see myself at the same time as a lived insider as well as a lived outsider of the project under study.  Therefore I’ll be first of all, scholarly, scientifically, artistically, who I am Plexus 23s, a lived insider of the living project “Plexus Black Box.”  This was-is a result of my phenomenological deconstruction process in progress of the image (A1).

10:45 am, East-West, NYU ICASA Forum, 1986;  Micro and Macro, NYU ICASA Forum, 1985. As well as Franco Meloni, physicist, wrote from an inside horizon of Plexus event, I experienced my emotions’s oxide-reductions of experiencing art. “Eating Art” is-was a metaphoric concept to describe the phenomenological consciousness of the artist as researcher as a biologist experiencing art as an oxide-reduction reaction. (Like a cold nuclear atomic reaction inside my lived body.)

11:00 am. “Il peso del” (the weight of) Dr. Dernini to carry the Well Being Reconciliation Project: “TOUCH-IT-DETACH.-IT”, I am learning, anyway, in 8 years of phenomenology to suspend my beliefs to reduce my phenomenological experience.  Therefore I’ll describe the outside from an outside insider point view, recalling “the Debate EMIC and ETIC,” and the complexity of the project under study within the context of the Well Being and Reconciliation project, made within my critical difficulties and personal family circumstances – 11.47am. Rodolfo (my 4 year old son) is protesting that he wants to use this pen that I am using just right now!.

On November 15, in New York, at Angiola Churchill’s Soho loft, on Broadway and Prince Street, Sandro Dernini recorded the recollections from the Plexus insiders Josè Rodriguez, David Boyle, David Ecker, Mitch Ross, Frank Pio, Butch Morris, Lorenzo Pace and George Chaikin.