Sculpture For Your Ears

A few years ago, I wrote a post about an intriguing  sculpture in the courtyard of Jefferson University a few blocks from my house called Ars Medendi.  

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At the time I wrote the post, there was a dearth of information on the Internet about the Ars Medeni cylinder or the screen, which is a shame.  As I was  reading the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend,   I was delighted t come upon a short mention  of  music composed specifically for these sculptures. by King Britt  called Copper Speaks to Flesh, which you can download here.

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As King Britt explains  on his web site

“So I was commissioned by Bowerbird of Philadelphia to create a sonic re-interpretation of the Ars Medendi sculpture by Jim Sanborn. The sculpture is comprised of many medical terms cut into copper. The sound art can be listened thru your phone by QR Code while looking at it in person or download here. I wanted to incorporate the words in my piece, so I got Ursula Rucker to say sequences of words from the piece. I then processed them through pedals and such. I also asked two people that were standing around the piece, what it meant to them and put that at the end of my piece as a perfect ending….”

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Read my post on the  Philadelphia Percent for Art program,  here.

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I hope you enjoy this marriage of music and metal.

Ars Medendi

Ars medendi is Latin for medical arts.  Is medicine an art or a science?    Some say it’s both; medical knowledge is gathered through scientific study, but the application of that knowledge  is an art .   That’s why they call it practicing medicine, and it is not coincidental that practicing is also the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
But seriously folks-I live in Philadelphia and walk past  a couple of fascinating sculptures almost every day.  One is a tall weathered metal cylinder in which mysterious looking symbols and foreign words in several alphabets-Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese-are punched out of the metal as if the creator wanted to make a giant stencil.  The other sculpture is a long trapezoid-shaped screen with the same design motif.   They intrigued me from the first time I saw them, but there are no plaques indicating what they are, who the sculptor is, or why they sit on opposite ends of   the plaza of Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.

People must have been asking the Jefferson administration the same questions because it appears that Jefferson recently added information to its web site about the sculptures.  They are entitled Ars Medende and the artist is Jim Sanborn, known for his Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. You can read more about Sanborn and his work here.

And now for the sculptures

The Medical Arts cylinder was installed on the corner of 9th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia in 2009.   It interesting by day but captivating at night.

When the cylinder is lit up at night it reflects  cryptic  symbols and foreign words onto the walkway and an adjacent building.   What do they mean?

I got a clue one night as my husband and I walked across the plaza.  He pointed  to the top of the  cylinder and asked me, “Do you recognize that?  It’s a DNA sequence.”  He should know, because he wrote a book called Corporate DNA: Learning from Life and did a lot of thinking about DNA and how it works while he was writing that book.   I admitted that the letters bore a strange familiarity even though I would be hard pressed to remember anything about DNA from high school biology.

Another look at the cylinder by day.  See the DNA sequence at near the top? Can you recognize anything else?

The Medical Arts screen  on the other side of the plaza on 10th Street  was placed there in 2008.  The first time I saw it, I was transfixed.  When I finally looked down,  I found two rusty X shapes from the stamped out metal that lying on the sidewalk.

There is other beautiful  art on the Jefferson Campus and I wish they would let the public know more about it.  You might remember the controversy that ensued after TJU decided to sell Thomas Eakins’ painting “The Gross Clinic” to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007.   American surgeon Samuel Gross taught at Jefferson Medical College and the story is that Eakins took one of his anatomy classes.

There is a statue of Gross in the courtyard by Alexander Sterling Calder who was the father of  Alexander Calder, known for his jewelry and  better known for his mobiles.  There is so much history at TJU both artistic and scientific.  But that is a topic for another post.

Enjoy the video about Jim Sanborn