Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

49 variations on 3 part cubes

Nel and I analyzed Sol LeWitt’s 49 variations on 3 cubes as a metaphor for structural networks of relationships. It is made up of the maximal number of permutations of 3 different kinds of cubes and is considered a staple of math inspired minimalism. They are all similar, made of the same things and within the same interpretational context. Yet, they are all each unique, and glossing them all as the “same” because they are made of the same parts and have the same interpretational context erases a large part of the meaning of the piece. This could be taken as a metaphor for individuals as well; we are all made up of the same things, we all are similar on some level, but it is our differences that lend meaning, creativity and intrigue.
The piece itself only makes sense with the presence of every member–you do not reach the maximal number of permutations. A single member on its own carries no information about the existence of the other permutations. This speaks to the necessity of relationship to meaning making practices, in art and in our own lives. It is only through other people that we are able to find meaning, these friendships give structure and are necessary for a full and complete life.

The piece changes with perspective. Moving around, the spacial relationship between each member shifts, and we see new angles and shadows emphasized. This is analogous to how one views relationships within society. Relationships may seem to be one way, but after time or some other kind of rearrangement and reconsideration, they may appear to be different. The different lenses through which one views relationships don’t change the fundamental nature relationship. Concurrently though, the relationships only exist with reference to an interpreter, and thus no interpreter or interpretation can be said to be any less valid than any other as they are each constructed from a different context.
Similarly, each individual member changes with perspective. Below, these two towers appear to be identical.
However, after moving four feet to the left, we see that they are in fact quite different. This speaks again to the necessity for analysis and deconstruction of one’s own positionally when breaking down other individuals. It asks us to contemplate our own assumptions about people, to take a step to the side and see people from a different angle. In just inhabiting a different point of view, people can literally “open up,” as these two cubes do.
There is always an angle when you’re looking at this piece, and it’s fairly easy to acknowledge. This piece asks us to think about the angles at which we look at others and our relationships to them, to recognize them and to shift our perspectives, if needed.

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