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Quark-y Park

After living here for a couple of years, I’m still a stranger in the strange land of Einsteinville, and I continue to make small discoveries in this precious little community. One of these is Princeton University’s predilection for the confluence of art and science. The Lost Boys over at Frink Tank posted a thoroughly hootworthy piece on the subject in June: Like alcohol and nightswimming, it’s a winning combination. The temporary installation of Quark Park on a vacant lot in Princeton takes this sometimes uneasy combination a step further, and turns it into a living three-dimensional experience of Art and Science. From the inner leaf of the “One enchanted evening at Quark Park” program:

A garden of installations
Celebrating the mysteries
Of science and art
And the contributions
Of Princeton area
Scientists and designers
In the intellectual firmament.

My pretensoid alert was set off when I read this, but nonetheless, in the spirit of being an upstanding member of Princeton’s scientific community (albeit from a tainted “applied science” profit-mongering institution) and with a background in the arts myself (an ill-fated stint as an undergrad architecture major), I decided to fork out the bucks for Quark Park’s opening night fundraiser last Friday (9/8/2006). A longtime friend/former grad school classmate/current colleague accompanied me. It wasn’t too hard to persuade her since the event was catered by one of our favorite happy hour watering holes.

We bought our tickets at the door from a couple of pert, pretty and well-kept Junior Leaguers, and proceeded into the Mystical World of Art and Science. I swiped my daughter’s digital camera since mine belongs to the strata of the Jurassic age. Below the fold are photos of the exhibits along with my banana-ripe commentary. Hopefully, all my wondrous photography won’t break Movable Type’s lightning fast responses.

It’s easy to get to Quark Park. It’s smack dab in downtown Einsteinville, and lookee here! There’s even a sign which tells you that you have found the right place.


Here’s a partial view of the park, looking toward the Quark Circle. This was a schmooze focus and later served as the dance floor. Yes, there was dancing, but this didn’t start until later in the evening. Let’s move on and take another look at that amorphous pink thing toward the upper right of the photo.


Below is the Stellarator. The team members are Robert Goldston (director of the Plasma Physic Lab at Princeton U.), Rein Triefeldt (sculptor) and Lily Krause and Bob Thomas (Mood Landscaping). The inspiration is fusion energy research. The aluminum frame surrounding the pink plasma blob is modeled on the National Compact Stellerator Experiment Structure. That green thing hanging down is a spiral juniper tree which represents a central magnet winding. There are other details not visible.

OK, then. I don’t see a writhing plasma core but instead, a pink malformed bagel with a prickly corkscrew penis dangling out of it.


I’m a fan of art glass, so the next installation was more appealing. This gives a nod to synchronized movement in animals with the most notable example being a school of fish. Here we see the bubbles of the ocean, a small group of mobile robots (the orange objects) barely visible on the right, and in the next photo, the school of fish. Naomi Ehrich Leonard (Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton U.), Dave Scudder (Ambleside Gardens) and Bob Kuster (Belle Mead Hot Glass) are the team. Based on the brochures and examples of work from Belle Mead Hot Glass, I’d guess that Mr. Kuster may have been one of Dale Chihuly’s apprentices.



This is also pretty cool at night as are some of the other installations.


Another best viewed by night installation is the ponderously and pretentiously titled, I want to know God’s thoughts…the rest are details – Einstein. Paul Schimmel (Prof. of Molecular Biology, Scripps Institute), Robert Cannon (sculptor, Cannon Design), Katherine Schimmel Baki (art consultant…hmmm, a little nepotism here), Tom Taylor (Caliper Farms Nursery), and Suzanne Maison (Bamboo and Rattan Works) collaborated on this project.


That’s pretty lofty title for what amounts to Disco DNA.


Sensation: Interior View is the work of Nancy Cohen (sculptor), Shirley Tilghman (Prof. of Molecular Biology and President, Princeton U.), James Strum (Prof. of Electrical Engineering, Princeton) and R. Wiley (landscaping from Stony Brook Gardens). The sculpture is an abstraction of the sense of smell. The disks represent the sensor neurons.


The electoluminescent wires represent the axonal connections. The wires converge in the olfactory bulbs.


Sensation is a fairly good sized piece, so I didn’t have the chance to manuver around and get a full shot as shown here. It is one of “OK, I guess” sculptures in the daylight which becomes much more striking at night. Then, the wires “fire” at random sequences. Here’s a night shot. Note the glow stick bracelet on the individual on the left. Those were our “stamps” for admission. Bring on the Phish improvs.


Since we’re on the subject of neurobiology, let’s move on to Learning in the Hippocampus. The collaborators are Tracey Shors (Prof. of Neuroscience, Rutgers), Steve Weiss (sculptor, Penn. Academy of Fine Arts) and Dolph Geurds (landscape designer, Sophora Design). Here bamboo is arranged in the shape of a hippocampus, i.e., two interlocking “C” shaped components. Here’s a long shot of the installation. The sculpture of the face marks to entrance to the bamboo hippocampus. One of the two faces at the entrance is shown in detail. He’s a worried looking dude no doubt wondering “What are those dang deals springing forth from my skull?” The tree roots are meant to represent dendrites. There are two faces, male and female, and naturally, the female face (not pictured) has more dendrites emerging from her head.



Walking around the interior had a vaguely maze-like feel. The interior pictures, which are reminiscent of the Art of Science offerings in the Frinksters’ link (whip out that camera, you “Bunsen burner Botticellis”), were out of scale compared to the tall bamboo and jarring against its natural tones. The installation as a whole doesn’t quite work for me, but I like the faces and the towering bamboo enclosing the hippocampal path.



Near the hippocampus was one of the best pieces in the park: Augmented Lithophone. These are granite posts, arranged in a picket fence configuration. Perry Cook (Prof. of Computer Science, Princeton), Jonathan Shor (sculptor), David Fierabend (Groudswell Design Group) and Jen Cole (artist) are the collaborators. Each pillar has a piezoelectric contact microphone attached . When you strike the post with a metal rod (a bunch of these were available as part of the sculpture), the vibrations are transmitted to boxes with simple digital processing equipment. Reverb and delays are added. This is entertaining interactive art. Here’s my friend playin’ the pillars:


Cosmology of Cosmetology is a weird incoherent piece. Carol Critchlow is the artist, John Jame Rivera (J.J. Rivera Design Build) and Ken Selody (Atlock Farm) is the landscaper. When you read stuff like “sacred geometry = architecture of the universe,” in the program describing the work, you know someone is trying too hard. Here’s a view toward the installation. The green frame walls enclose the “cosmos,” and the frigid, rigid babe on the recliner is relaxing outside of it. That strand of yellow things? Those are bras. Each corner of the frame structure has garlands of monochrome brassieres afixed to it. I guess these lingerie festoons are meant to be “playful.” I’ll grant youu that it’s a good use of old bras. A lot of people examined Cosmetology of the Cosmos. I don’t think it was because of its, ah, “high art meets science concept” (I just threw up a little in my mouth), but because it was really close to one of the wine stations.


Here are some details of the cosmetology of the cosmos. These are old nail polish bottles and other cosmetic gimcrackery imbedded into the, errr, sacred geometry.


I guess this garden gazer globe on top of a rusty 55 gallon barrell is meant to give the viewer a central focus and an infinite view. Ugh.


Sundial is the collaboration of Freeman Dyson (Prof. Emeritus , Institute of Advanced Study), Representative Rush Holt (yes, my congressman is a bona fide physicist), Alan Kehrt (KSS Architects), Dna Burke (landscape architect), Charlie Yedin (Yedin Construction) and Doerler Landscaping. It’s big, it’s red, and it masterfully penetrates the soft yielding sky.


I like Forbidden Geometry. The combination of glass and stone works well. This is the collaboration of Paul Steinhardt (Prof. of Physics, Princeton), Christop Spath (sculpture) and Bill Kucas (Garden Makers Landscaping). This Indiana limestone and glass sculpture is based on small 3-D models of 4 different zonohedra. these can be combined under rules developed by Steinhardt to form quasi-crystals. Spath used six zonohedra. Three are stone, and three are glass. According to Steinhardt’s rules for quasi-crystals, more modules could be added and expanded into all directions the same set of geometric shapes.

Thor’s Hammer Meets Roger Penrose!


Light Emerging (Gerald Frederickson, Robert Simms, Yongchi Tian, Sarnoff Corporation; Joshua Zinder, Joshua Zinder Architecture and Design; Steve Wirth, golf course superintendent, Cherry Valley Country Club) collaborated on this installation. The sculpture is composed of blue light engines, phophors for the colors, and plastic rods. This is one of those less than impressive pieces by day…


…but much better at night.


Weather Garden is the best installation from the “organic” botanical perspective. The incorporation of horticultural features with sculptures is jarring in some of the other works, cf. Stellerator, but in the Weather Garden, it’s harmonious. George Philander (Professor of Atmospheric & Oceanic Science, Princeton Univerisity ), Holly Grace Nelson (Landscape Architect), Matt Kiefer (Kiefer Landscapes, Inc. ), Bill Flemmer (sculptor), Zachary Smith and Maria Ivarsson, (Studio Volantis) are the team members. The teepee-like structure behind the guys serving paella is the Vortex. Flemer made this out of birch saplings. Morning glories are planted at its base, and are climbing up the wood.


In the interior of the Vortex, Ivarson and Smith placed a stained glass mandala at its opening.


The stone floor refers to the sun.


Next to the Vortex is the path arching through young bamboo, holly bushes and other shrubs back to the Cloud Room, a space filled with misters. The effect is like walking through a foggy forest path. There are also late season perennials such as Rudbeckia planted in the Weather Garden. Matt’s landscaping is among the best on the temporary lot. As an aside, the corn plants and sunflowers on the grounds (visible in some of the other photos) are leftovers from the previous art park: Writers Block.



It was a mild evening, and once it was dark, the more humdrum sculptures (see above) improved with lighting. Three good sized glasses of a Grenache-syrah blend dampened my wannabe art critic sneering. The food was good which we expected from our watering hole: sandwiches made with good bread, damn fine paella, and lots of interesting hors d’oeuvres.

With wine in hand, we wandered around some more, and talked to one of the artists whose neon light sculpture was not yet installed. It will shoot light up into the night sky from the Quark Circle. I took this photo of the Circle from the Belle Mead Hot Glass installation. OK, it’s shaky, but hey, I was on my third glass at that point.


We eventually settled into a couple of chairs to observe the sociodynamics. As wine and champagne loosened up rectal rods, people started dancing in the Quark Circle. Yes, the inevitable Thomas Dolby chestnut, “She Blinded Me with Science” was among the DJ’s selections. Lubed up academic sci-geeks and hip artists getting down on the dance floor brought to mind that “winning combination of alcohol and nightswimming,” but under a waning but still fat moon during a mild late summer night, our sardonic take mellowed, and we sat back, took in the unholy confluence, and enjoyed the scene.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    September 12, 2006

    Cool! Good write up.

  2. #2 Dr. Eye
    September 16, 2006

    Think how much fun this would have been if they’d made it a
    mini-golf course. Except then someone would have had to have
    had a windmill.

  3. #3 beth
    September 21, 2006

    This is a great tour of the show!
    We should hit the art/technology show that my sister has been involved in at NYU for a number of years- I’m too big of a slacker to have attended so far, but with a little prodding and companionship I can drag my sorry art deprived arse there, I bet.

  4. #4 Vincent
    December 11, 2008

    A wonderful description of the event!

    Best regards,


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