Trefoil Knot


A few years ago I built the geometric figure the trefoil knot — a continuous loop wrapped doubly around itself — in stoneware. I had discovered the figure in a book called Shapes, Space and Symmetry by the mathematician Alan Holden. Something about the way this continuous shape becomes different to and entangled with itself fascinated me — a contradiction between continuity and difference that somehow feels like an apt metaphor for the experience of consciousnes, or an aspect of my own, anyway.

Building the figure in clay was a mental exercise: deconstructing the shape in my mind, discovering rules of its construction showed fleeting glimpses behind the veil into space in the abstract. It was a very pleasing meditation, and then at the end I felt some satisfaction that it was complete, continuous, self-entangled, much like the experience of making it. I put it in the kiln and was happy again when it survived the trial by fire. And then it came home with me, big, fragile and unweildy.

At the invitation of a friend, I exhibited it paired with one of his works as part of a big group show. I never saw the show, and when the show came down, the knot came back to me. I carried it from Bed Stuy to my home in Williamsburg, getting strange looks from strangers as I cradled by entangled baby down the street.

When I had to move from that Williamsburg apartment, the sculpture lived for a while in the home of my friends and former studio mates on a shelf in their living room. I liked seeing it there among their things, blending a bit into the shelf unit. I wish I had a picture of it there. As it is, I only have one picture of the sculpture intact. It now sits in pieces on my dresser.


My friends were forced to move from their loft and it was time for me to reclaim custody of my trefoil knot. I had been happy for it to live somewhere else, with friends who had a place for it where it didn’t feel precarious or in the way. The sculpture had begun to feel tired to me. I mean, was it even art? It was just a geometric fact, a demonstration of a principle. Plus it was big and heavy, and fragile too. There was a hairline crack at one of the joints that I felt always threatened to give way. I knew that time would have its way with it. What to do? But it came back to live with me and my girlfriend, and it received less than a heroes welcome. We found a place for it, out of harms way.

And then that relationship ended, and I moved out. The knot was one of the last things to leave our old place and come to my new apartment. A friend was helping me move and he began to carry it, but decided he wanted no part of it. It was fragile, and it was my work: I should carry it. I took it from the back of the car and propped it with my knee as I opened the door to the apartment. There were a few things still in the car, so I put the sculpture down softly on the tiled floor of the hallway and it gently divided into three roughly equal parts. My friend let out a cry of sorrow. I just laughed! It was perfect. I never totally acknowledged it but the thing had always been teetering on the edge of collapse. Its unity was a temporary state of affairs, kind of like my understanding of the abstract laws of space that making it revealed to me. Instantly it felt alive again.

(photo of sculpture broken in the hallway tk)

(eeyore illustration)

I’m reminded of a favorite story from the Winnie The Pooh books. The short version is: It is Eeyore’s birthday. He suffers from depression, and the other animals are trying to cheer him up with a fun birthday party. Everyone fucks up their gifts. Pooh, a glutton unable to help himself, eats the honey he was going to give Eeyore. Piglet, overexcited and distracted, falls on and pops the balloon he’d gotten. To all appearances, Eeyore’s birthday will be a disappointment. But Eeyore loves it. He finds great joy in putting the baloon in the empty jar, and taking it out.

Since it broke, the sculpture has become a toy. I rearrange the three pieces variously; place things on, in, and hanging from it. In idle moments I reassemble it mentally into a knot. With the help of a friend, we can hold it temporarily in formation.

(photo of the knot as it is today tk)

Of all the Pooh stories, which I loved as a kid, this one had special resonance for me. As a glum and lonesome kid, I think I related to Eeyore, and I also think I liked the idea that mistakes are not worse than intentions carried out to a successful conclusion. As soon as something is resolved, I feel it loses a bit of magic.

So to conclude, because whatever I write will be the conclusion though this whole thing is kind of against concluding: here’s to entanglement in time and space. Here’s to happy accidents. Here’s to play, and to friendship. Perhaps I will periodically update this post as the life of the knot continues.