“Syntax” by Steve Tobin. Copper, bronze. 

1a: the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)

1b: the part of grammar dealing with this

2: a connected or orderly system : harmonious arrangement of parts or elements [i.e. the syntax of classical architecture].

[Thank you Merriam Webster.]

This is one of my favorite sculptures. A harmonious arrangement of parts or elements. Say, perhaps, letters of the alphabet which permit us to code abstract concepts and concrete objects into recognizable patterns, enabling us to share information of many kinds. “Syntax” is constructed of hundreds of cast-bronze letters, joined together in such a way that the overall form is unified and calm while the letters themselves make a chaos (the letters do not join into recognizable words).

Steve says that this piece encompasses all the things human beings who use speech could express in words. Well, maybe most things. And using Romanized alphabets. No Cyrillic letters in here, or ideograms, so far as I can tell…but the potential exists in this sculpture. I like the central hole: it suggests depth, or the kind of gravity that black holes supposedly possess, pulling everything into themselves that passes the liminal boundary–all the things unsaid.

Lately, I’ve been working with my students to help them see the connections between rhetoric and grammar, the logic of these linguistic elements, grammar’s many constituents, which my students tend to see as an unruly rabble or a horde that demands strict rules in a language that no one understands. After a day of words words words, and no time for poetry, I’d like to sit next to this sculpture for 15 minutes and breathe…in silence.

4 comments on “Syntax

  1. Dave Bonta says:

    Very cool sculpture! Is that on your campus?


    • annemichael says:

      No, alas. This one is usually at Steve’s studio (he lives not too far from me), though it may be among the works installed at Grounds for Sculpture. I wish I could buy it! I should have made the photo larger so that readers can see the details better.

      Go to his website for a better view:


  2. Dave Bonta says:

    It looks dangerous, like a black hole of language or a carnivorous egg.


  3. […] what artists can do with letters, see also my earlier post on Steve Tobin’s sculpture, “Syntax.” Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponMoreLinkedInEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]


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