A Pyramid Project
Kurt: The project's about pyramids. We have a pyramid inside us and what's of interest to an art historian is what's been made objective and material. As everybody knows a great pyramid was once built. That work's been done. Apparently through history, there have been esoteric practice of meditations which have used in some way the knowledge and the understanding that there is a pyramid inside us before there is a pyramid we build of stones.
We're an educational institution that is funded by the state and paid for by tax payer and we have an obligation to get abreast of what’s going on in the field of scholarship. My training is in art history, before that it was in International Relations, International Law. I did my graduate work at Princeton University, Department of Art a Archaeology. I was awarded a Ph. Degree in Art and Archaeology in 1966. Since that time I've been teaching in New Zealand, at Princeton, UCLA and here at California State University, Sacramento in the Department of Fine Arts.
We have Ken Switras with us today who since last year has been coordinating the Project with me on the erection of a real pyramid to some scale that relates to the great tradition, the Great Pyramid, interior and exterior. About, I should say, a couple of years ago when the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco got together “The Rainbow Exhibition" many people in the area of the state saw that show. There was a pyramid erected by the Vaillancourt Fountain, Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco. It was to scale, forty-five feet along the base with an incredible purple carpet inside. I never had the experience, this is all heresay, but I did see a photograph of it. There was a magazine article about it and a calendar a couple years ago above San Francisco, views above San Francisco, and one of the shots showed the freeway and the Hyatt Hotel aid the Vaillancourt Fountain and this 45-foot pyramid in just these colors, eight of which will be visible from the outside with the purple carpet inside.
And during the period of a couple months, all kinds of people were attracted to the energy of experiencing the pyramid. So when we thought of getting the bag for the pyramid out of storage, finding some place to put it up we began to get an incredible amount of energy that was drawn to the project. People were interested in what kind of plants would grow particularly well if situated inside the pyramid; at some level, people just want to be in it. So we decided that this represented a positive wave of energy so Ken Switras and myself sought the cooperation of a whole array of people in the community and industry, business and science. And it's come about that we have a real opportunity for academic study and to coordinate it with a material project, to erect a model in cooperation with Alcoa Aluminum who has donated free aluminum has promised that. And Ken is up on the latest roster of participants in the vast pyramid balloon. Maybe we can talk more about that later.
There is a Pyramid recording by Paul Horn playing flute inside the Great Pyramid. He has a story about a guy in Santa Rosa just 30 miles from Napa, just over the hill, and he says, "Well, when you get to the Great Pyramid you strike it with the fleshy a Part of your palm and you'll hear a sound. Tune your flute to this sound and you'll be in harmony of the space.” Now this may be mystical or whatever, but here's a musician who has a fine ear and plays flute and is making a recording, and the accoustical properties of the room are objective, these are not a matter of subjective taste or opinion. They can be measured. He brought with him, in the liner notes of Paul Horn, Inside the Great Pyramid, he tells the story. He brought with him an electronic tuning device and he found that the resonance was as predicted by the friend in Santa Rosa, 438…438 cycles per second. Well, the western orchestra tunes its A to 440 so there is a differential there. He had to re-tune his flute to be in harmony with the space.
The key to the treasure is the treasure. The key being what it is that could be measured and the Great Pyramid has been measured and recorded and scrutinized with more precision than any other work of art. We know a very great deal about what people thought about the pyramids and about the relationships and the harmonies of it. We know now that the Great Pyramid is a half an octahedron. and that it's a geodeisic, that it's related to the circumference of the earth, that the angles are so constructed when, in fact, it was is impossible to calibrate the mass of the earth at a time when, generally, well a thousand years before Hippocrates gets the credit for that in the histories of science, and was said to have discovered the circumference of the earth. Hippocrates got it wrong. In fact we know what records he was using. He was using the temple records that were passed down a thousand years before that. And by then the coordinates had changed and we know his error and we know how the error was cancelled out. And in fact, he got a pretty good approximation, but we know which mistakes he made; we have the original records. So we know that the Egyptians knew this.
What has become very fruitful for modern scholars is not to speculate about what the ancients could or could not have known, but to take the objective evidence and understand the problems they were addressing themselves to. And then see how modern scientists would go about it instead of imagining them to be somehow primitive and to have something falling short of human intelligence. In fact, all the evidence shows there was a perception of the Unity at that time. Now, of course, we know that there was a lot of material they didn't have to work with- heavy equipment from the Industrial Revolution, they didn't have to work with, we know that. But it's all speculation about their software; apparently they understood mathematics very, very well indeed.
Pyramids are built by human beings. They occur in many places in history and are spread in geography. We have several lines of approach for such questions. It seems fruitful to begin with the simplest level. We can ask ourselves, having said they are built by human beings, what is it that human beings have in common? Then we consider the psychic space of an imaginary pyramid and we deal with that kind of evidence and we consider what other cultural manifestations justify and support this, in fact some kind of interior alchemy or meditation practice or whatever was being performed there. In many cases there is supporting evidence. Then we have to consider what other maps does the Great Pyramid pertain to and what might the relationships be in these other levels? Astronomy is the model that's common. And we find, in fact, as Peter Tompkins finds in his second book on the Mexican pyramids, his first being The Secrets of the Great Pyramid, excellent text, he finds that in fact in Central America the pyramids served in order to make observations of stars. So we do have a common matrix that we can map pyramids, we have two of them, the structure and function of the human body and we have the tradition of lore and information about stars.
What about the idea of pyramids, where are the pyramids, where do the pyramids come up? There are pyramids in nature, there is a tetrahedral form of a crystalline structure, there's a triangular based pyramid that forms the whole basis of Buckminster Fuller's theory of geodetics and geodeisics. There's different kinds of pyramids. Triangular based pyramids, there's rectangular based pyramids such as the great pyramid. There are pyramidal structures. In the information space, you find programs, computer programs that have pyramidal structure; there's a pyramid chain letter for instance, information structure, and selling Avon products maybe, even. Pyramid organizations are outlawed by law in mail order. It would be interesting to find out, I don't know; how is it that the law defines what is a pyramid organization, what is it? They must have some specifics on that where they distinguish what constitutes or defines such structure as pyramidal. There's also such work that can be done in class, that's an objective excercise.
Even though it deals with subjective material or aspects of mind, that is imaginary pyramids, so you do meditation, or some form of excercise like that, in which you imagine a pyramid of such and such dimensions, of such and such colors, and you image yourself as being inside this. Sso there is a set of very clear objective indications which can be followed by anyone who reads the American language, in which we construct a pyramid inside of our imaginations and this is the connection with esoteric traditions, since this kind of exercise is found in historical examples.
It's in Sufi lore, for example, it's one of the things that Sufi's do. Some Buddhist meditation is very similar to that; the five Dhyani Buddhas, one each in the four corners, and then the fifth, Vairocana in the center, and it forms a peak so it's a pyramid, too. On this basis as an art historian, as a scholar, we say that yes, we have an analogue. We can map the analogues, on this basis we can try these things, we can even try the exercises and see what happens.
Sandy: What's your reason for being into pyramids, is it strictly from an art perspective, in applying it to everyday life, is there some goal, or hypothesis, or research that you're trying to prove or disprove, or anything like that?
Kurt: Well, there's no crossing without motive, you're quite right to inquire about motive. I can describe it, I can tell you the story of my life and how it happened that I came across pyramids, because all of that contributes to my attention. I was most profoundly struck by pyramids when I was doing work about three or four years ago with mathematics. I’m not a professional mathematician, and I'd been turned off by math for a long time, ever since Mr. Rogers in the sixth grade. I began to get interested in the problem as an art historian, of what can be said that was objective. I myself have been guilty of adding to the mountain of nonsense that's been written and published, despite all my good intentions. But looking for that clarity, looking for that process model, where I could be clear about what I was doing, and be honest about it, and somebody could read it, and could distinguish between my brilliant observations, and subtle sensitive interpretations, and my flights of fantasy, and then the other questions when I was describing what the case was, with what was available and could be corrected. I came across the field of process neural architecture, which is like one of these new cryptic sciences, where I found out that in cellular neurology, they try to localize specific functions of neurons, so as to map the brain.
Kind of preliminary work had been done in this area. There were people like Karl Pribram, whom I had the occasion to meet and spend some time with, who were working at a more sophisticated level of program analysis, where they could take an architecture — so it would be like a four dimensional time-space continuum — and describe the brain model as holograms, a hologramic model of the brain, so that you're not just concerned with right and left brain, but you're concerned also with function of relationships between them. So you have a trialectic understanding between them, rather than a binary or dualistic process. As it turns out you can actually get deeper with the three-valued logic than you can with the two-valued logic. I found there's a very deep process model in neurology, about four different functions, and they process data mapped to certain mathematical models that are distinct. There are tree models, there are net models, there's an array logic, and there's also a feedback grammar. The mathematical models for each one of these grammars or processes, in neurological function, is clear and distinct. It was that way of working that very much appealed to me.
And I see that as a great antidote, or complement, or supplement if you like, to what had been done in art history, and what I had done in the realm of art critical writing, and trying to say something about this painting on the wall, this piece of architecture; there is a mathematical model for this four-part system, each part of which represents unity, happens to be found in Group Theory. It's one of the deepest, most fundamental areas in math, and it's skipped over by many practicing mathematicians. But i found references to that in Cassius Kaiser's brilliant lecture on Group Theory. I got into it that way. These are the most powerful, precise conceptual tools that our cultural tradition has produced at this time. And we disdain them at our own peril. We look around and see what the best tools are, and then we're clear about what we're doing, and how we're transgressing.
People are very defensive about academic disciplines, our pan-universalist university curriculum point of view. The university is supposed to be a universe, one complete whole tour around, right? And that the distinctions for administrative purposes are one thing, but when you get to the heart of the matter, that you take a wholistic view, and if necessary that you consider mathematics, you do that, even though that is being done on some other building on campus. And so if I can do this from a wholistic point of view, the analogue is wholistic health, and group theory in mathematics is precisely the branch of mathematics that seeks to define what is the whole. There is a group, that has four elements in it, and the special quality of the members of this group is that each member of this group represents unity, is one way of indicating unity. It has four members in it. This is the power series of "i", the imaginary number, it turns out to be of fundamental importance in contemporary mathematics and systems design, and a great deal of really earth-shaking work has been done. In the last couple of years, I had the opportunity to attend the seminar of G. Spencer Brown, whose Laws of Form provides one of the most useful foundations in this work.
Pyramids pop up in the news all the time. Very interesting. There seems to be a general fascination with them at this time. The King Tut show is on it's way here. People are going to go down in the spring; maybe the class will be able to go down and see the work at Los Angeles next spring. It'll be another year before it's up here. Of course King Tut's treasures are from a tomb; it wasn't a pyramid. So there's that distinction, it still being an extraordinary example of what the Egyptians were into. A practical man, Alexander Thom, who has long since ceased debating whether ancient people like the Egyptians could or couldn’t have known this or that.
Megalithic builders in Britain or Egypt weren’t that long ago, really, in our spectrum of human existence. Now we realize that they were just yesterday, and had fully the cranial capacity and fully the command of the material aspects of civilization, as we do today, if not the technological hardware. Nobody's done better sculpture than the Egyptians did. Different sculpture, not primitive though. Nobody's built a structure like the great pyramids, with the precision of an optician, on that scale. It's the largest scale before, what? The house/senate office buildings? But you know, it's very big, and very precise. So it's fatuous to assume that they couldn't have known about this or that, when in fact there's the evidence. The prima-facie evidence is very powerful for the scientific mind.
Ken: The pyramid does represent, like Kurt was saying, unities. It's function (the pyramid project) as far as physical function on campus, it's uniting different departments, it's uniting the community, because Alcoa's involved, and Teichert's involved, and there are lot's of unifying factors as far as getting out of the university, working with the community, and unifying what I see as a very segregated campus as far as discipline into working toward a common goal.
Kurt: It's that there's that kind of supportive energy so that nobody really has to do any hard work, and you know you're getting close to something if you don't have to push it and beg for special effort, but that it's forthcoming. People want to grow plants in it, people want to dance in it, the modern dance class wants to come in it, and why not? What a wonderful manifestation of unity, both in the way it comes about, and what it is about. It's a unity model.
I'm doing this project. This project involves among other things, this big piece of hardware, a material pyramid. Which will be noticed if it ever gets up. From a certain point of view I have no attachment, to that thing, or to it getting up. I have positive energy for it, so i'm supportive of it. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't matter, I won't put up a monument.
In fact, part of what's happened in art history in the past ten years has been the old concern with art as a product, vis-a-vis as a process. So conceptual artists - well, Jackson Pollack was into art as process, when he talked about his paintings as the mere dead records of his real art; so you know, every ballet dancer, every bull fighter, has known about art as a process. But you see, it's performing arts and process art that is the bastard child of the fine arts in the university curriculum. Well, isn't that interesting. What's been missed? You know something's been missed, because, by God, in an economic system where you have art serving the wealthy class, the monied and propertied gentry, then you peruse art that's rare; it's based on scarcity commodities, it's made out of gold or diamonds or bronze, all of which are very expensive. It's limited, it's scarce, only a few people can have it, and if they put it in museums, that's just the next stage of the same process, making an idol out of the scarceness commodity, and keeping emphasis on the product aspect.
This is why people go crazy and throw acid at a painting. Why throw acid on a painting, you know? It's in some way I guess, as the psychology would understand, the revulsion against the token of the thing, which is this kind of art. Whereas, as everybody knows, as children and as the Balinese know on a sophisticated level, and it's long since been pointed out, there are ways in which everything is art. So we're talking about a state of mind or process function that's going on as art, so that's how I come to the project, that's it's process art and it's bound to be good theater, no matter what happens with it as a product. So there's a self referential aspect of working with that.
My sister is a nice lady, she's chair of the School Board in Castro Valley. I saw her last weekend, and she says, "you know, I was talking about pyramids the other day and this guy says, 'Well, whadaya mean, "pyramids," what's all this stuff?'" She had a piece of Egyptian jewelry that was like the Eye of Horus. He says "That's very beautiful, but what is it?" She says, "The Eye of Horus." “The Eye of Horus, what's that?' "It's the eye that's on the pyramid." “The pyramid, the eye?' "You know, on our money, on the dollar bill." What?” and the guy took out a dollar bill and looked at it on the back, and saw the eye, and said, "I never noticed it before, what's that doing there?"
So, there's more to that story. And i just found out from Paul Zammarian and Walter Barney that apparently it was Henry Wallace, who had caused that part of the seal to be thus used. It's the Great Seal of the United States of America, but it had never been struck since the constitutional convention, only the other side had been struck and used as a seal, with the eagle and the arrows, and the olive branch and the stars, in the Mogen David at the top you know. They never struck the pyramid until the 1930's, and Wallace insisted it be struck, and that Roosevelt had put it on the wrong side of the dollar bill, on the left side, on the gauche negotiable side. And apparently, properly it belongs on the other side. So that apparently there's an awful lot to this symbolism of the pyramid, according to the 55 founding fathers of our fair country.
Recorded and transcribed