COSI Columbus Walter and Marian English Commemorative Sculpture
40' dia x 15' h
When I was first introduced to the English Plaza at COSI (Center Of Science and Industry) Columbus as the future site for a work of art, I was intrigued by the difficult prospect of designing a piece that would have a presence in such a large, wide open space. The strong black and white striped pavers that run the length of the roughly 180’ plaza offered another challenge. However, these stripes in combination with the symmetrical and formal setting of the Central High School portion of the building have become integral elements to the concept and design of the sculpture.
It was in fact the black and white stripes that got me rolling. I began to think about dichotomies and the way that they permeate our experience of the Universe. As we go about our daily lives we rely on dichotomies to navigate the world we live in. Through our senses we experience sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feel of things. But the vast complex systems of neurons that communicate these senses to our brains do so by signaling either yes or no. Our existence is a vibration. As Alan Watts wrote in his book titled The Book:
Whether we think of this vibration in terms of waves or particles, or perhaps wavicles, we never find the crest of a wave without a trough or a particle without an interval, or space, between itself and others…. there is no such thing as a half wave, or a particle without any space around it. There is no on without off, no up without down.
We use dichotomies to communicate our ideas and experiences with each other. Our ability to learn is governed by them as we compare and contrast our previous experience with what is unfolding before us today. They are the basis of our scientific methods.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
- T.S. Eliot -
As separate as dichotomies may seem there is often a point at which we realize that they are indeed merely aspects of the same thing. This is the balance, the dance, the yin and the yang. It is this epiphany that slows us to sit back and marvel at the glorious simplicity of our complex and interconnected Universe. From the light of day to the black of night – to the tiny variance in light wave lengths as your eyes sense the color of a flower – to the complex firing of neurons that tell your brain that you are smelling a real flower and not looking at a painting of one – we find dichotomies on infinite scales of existence.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with joy
Of elevated thoughts: a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air
And the blue sky, and in the minds of man-
A motion and spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things…
- William Wordsworth -
This feeling of the infinite can be visually symbolized with the grace of a logarithmic spiral. This spiral correlates directly with a mathematical sequence called the Fibonacci sequence. Each term in the sequence is constructed by the sum of the previous two, starting with 0 and 1. The sequence runs 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… The ratio between each number approaches the value of 0.618034 known to the ancient Greeks as the Golden Section. If you draw a series of rectangles that grow in the successive proportion of the Fibonacci sequence, you can create a logarithmic spiral by connecting the outer most points. You can continue in any direction getting infinitely smaller or infinitely larger. Nature is replete with this unique geometry. It can be seen in the form of galaxies and weather systems, as well as the shells of mollusks and the phyllotaxis patterns of many plant species. It is a symbol of growth and expansion that I have used throughout the design of the sculpture.
What, you ask, was the beginning of it all?
And it is this…
Existence that multiplied itself
For sheer delight of being
And plunged into numberless trillions of forms
So that it might
- Sri Aurobindo -
The sculpture is designed to be placed in the center of the largest portion of the English Plaza around and above the existing inscribed dedication stone. The entire scope of the work will stem from this center point and encompass a circular area roughly 40’ in diameter. Beginning with the grade level treatment, two logarithmic spirals will expand from the center stone and stop opposite each other approximately 26’ apart North-South. These spirals will be constructed of small mosaic tiles and be reminiscent in color of the arms of a spiral galaxy. As the plaza is split length wise (N-S) there is a stripe of white pavers West of center and a stripe of black pavers East of center. In the areas that the spirals cross over the stripes the black and white colors will be interchanged creating a swirling pattern. The mosaic spirals are two of eight spirals that stem from the center. The other six are only visible at the intersecting points of thirteen other invisible spirals coming from the opposite direction. Each intersecting point will be illustrated with 1” diameter polished stainless steel discs that will be inlaid flush with the pavers and mosaic. The ratio of 8/13 relates to the Fibonacci sequence and creates a phyllotaxis pattern similar to that seen in sunflower seeds, pinecones and other growth systems. At the end of each of the two mosaic spirals there are sculpted lime stone pedestals. It is from these pedestals that two different sculptural elements rise up and over towards the center forming an arch approximately 15’ high.
The two sculptural elements represent dichotomies in exploration and discovery. I use the terms exploration and discovery in a broad and expansive manner. It not only relates to physical scientific endeavors but also to philosophical and psychological introspection and self-knowledge. The primary dichotomous themes involved are as follows:
- Inner space / Outer space
- Organic / Inorganic
- Past / Future
- Unconscious / Conscious
- Subjective / Objective
- Imagination / Reality
Sitting on top of each of the pedestals is a representational sculpture of a child engrossed in a metaphorical form of exploration. On the North side a young Caucasian boy is leaning over his pedestal and appears to be pulling a spliced chambered nautilus shell out of the mosaic below. A ripple pattern will be made in the mosaic giving the impression that it is fluid. This act of reaching in sets the tone for expressions of inner space, the organic, the primordial past, the depths of the unconscious, the subjective, and the realm of imagination. The perfect logarithmic spiral of the chambered nautilus shell with its septum receding towards its center is symbolic of transformations through time. The small spheres, which could be seen as ascending or descending, represent the quest to come ever closer to understanding the origins of life and the Universe.
On the opposite side a young African American girl has discovered a large sphere. This sphere is indenting the surface of her pedestal and looks similar to a diagram illustrating the effects of massive bodies on the curvature of space-time. The sphere has split open and rising from within is a smaller sphere. This sphere appears to be unbound by the laws of gravity. It is symbolic of reaching out, taking flight, leaving the terrestrial confines, creating new technology and the more efficient use of resources, and building a future.
The two representational figures give a relatively clear launching point for viewers before they embark on their own explorations of the forms that follow. Rising up from each figure are what could be described as the physical manifestations of their imaginations. Although these forms have been influenced in my mind by the dichotomous themes mentioned above, they have been intentionally left completely abstract. This is because it is essential to me that each viewer asks questions about what they think they see and how it may change their perceptions. It is the juxtaposition, the dichotomy, of the representational and the abstract that forces a leap of the imagination.
As the two abstract forms continue up and reach over towards the center, an arch is formed. Each arm in the arch corresponds to the shape of the thirteen spirals that help to create the phyllotaxis pattern below. The organic ramified branching structure and the futuristic geometrical shapes swirl back together 15’ above as the viewer is brought full cycle.
© 2009 Matthew Gray Palmer Fine Arts
Photo credit - Danielle Dean Palmer