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43  |   P S A L T E R  III
Wall piece, 2003
Stained and painted wood, with brass
155.5 x 50 x 3.5 cm.


In the summer of 2003, I conceived and built my PSALTER III in a more conciliatory mood than that in which I had created PSALTER II, during the same year’s bitter spring. The newer piece’s faintly Byzantine flavor can be traced to the hymn boards of the Church of St. Mary, Stendal, in the German state of Brandenburg ; while the arrangement of its number shingles was taken from those of the Church of St. Stephen in nearby Tangermünde. But the numerals the work displays have just as little to do with hymns and psalms as do those of PSALTER I, inasmuch as they belong to what is called a magic square : a square, that is, divided into smaller squares—in this case nine—each of which contains a number, such that the sum of the figures in each horizontal, vertical, and diagonal row of three equals the same value.


Wall piece, with brass, 155.5 x 50 x 3.5 cm, stained and painted wood, 2003.

I had become familiar with this and other such configurations through the many drawings Eberhard Blum has used them in, throughout many years. Well-known in China for millennia, they have been popular in Europe since the sixteenth century. The square in PSALTER III, however, is particularly gratifying, as it employs only—and all of—the digits one to nine. The number five occupies the center square, just as it does the middle of the series ; the even numbers are to be found in the four corners ; and the sum of each horizontal, vertical, and diagonal row is three times five, or fifteen.

In Islam, variations on this basic arrangement are linked to the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I chose to use the Chinese original, which Arabic thought associates with Fire. Here, in PSALTER III, locked in a dark-brown wooden frame, the nine single-digit cardinal numbers shine forth in white, on three times three black rectangles , as pure Number, which underwrites our commonality.