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Where art and atoms collide




Photo by Meaghan Byrne
(Expand Photo)
Quark Park, the brainchild of architect Kevin Wilkes '83, integrates science, art and recreation. Currently located behind Palmer Square, the display will be taken down after Thanksgiving.
    Hidden on a small grass lot behind Palmer Square lies a place where art, science and recreation converge.

    Quark Park, a temporary display named for the subatomic particle, was conceived, designed and organized by architect Kevin Wilkes '83, landscape architect Alan Goodheart and local landscaper Peter Sonderman.

    The park  on Paul Robeson Place, between Chambers and Witherspoon Streets  is designed to be a place where "people can forget about who they are, who they're supposed to be," Sonderman said.

    Each of the more than 20 creations in the park was built through collaboration between a scientist, an architect and a landscape artist attempting to present a scientific idea in a way that would make it more interesting and more accessible to the general public.

    One such installation is "Sensation," a series of glowing translucent fibers in bright primary colors traveling from three spheres to a series of thin disks that resemble oversized buttons. The sculpture, designed by President Tilghman, electrical engineering professor James Sturm, and Nancy Cohen, an artist from Jersey City, is meant to represent the way smells are received by the nose.

    "Cosmology and Cosmetology" is a creation located by the park entrance. More sociological and less purely scientific than the other installations, "Cosmology" consists of a series of magazine racks displaying issues of Cosmopolitan and Elle opposite a shelf filled with science books.

    Sonderman said that "Cosmology" is meant to mock the increasingly consumer driven culture in modern day America, where "some people consider cosmetology to be just as much of a science as cosmology."

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    "Cosmology" also exposes people to the "vacuous nature of this culture" and gives them a setting in which to discuss it, Sonderman added.

    The gates to the park are sculptures themselves, consisting of scrap pieces of paper with messages in magic marker woven into a fabric of wire gauze.

    Sonderman said the idea for the park originally came from an Oped that appeared in The New York Times last December. The column, by Nicholas Kristof, was titled "The Hubris of the Humanities" and argued that politicians and intellectuals in America have focused too much of their energy on history, literature and the arts. Kristof maintained it was essential to improve public awareness of science-related issues and to shift the focus toward math and the sciences.

    "Increasingly, we face public policy issues  avian flu, stem cells  that require some knowledge of scientific methods, yet the present Congress contains 218 lawyers, 12 doctors, and 3 biologists," Kristof wrote. "In terms of the skills we need for the 21st century, we're Shakespeare-quoting Philistines."

    After Thanksgiving, the owners of the property plan to tear down the park and build condominiums on the lot. Wilkes, Goodheart and Sonderman, who previously collaborated on a similar landscaping project called "Writer's Block," already have plans for their next project. They hope to work with Pulitzer Prizewinning creative writing professor Paul Muldoon on a project based on poetry, and are considering a possible location in an alley off Nassau Street.

    Despite the ephemeral nature of his current project, Sonderman remains optimistic about raising public awareness of complex scientific issues and creating thought-provoking public art projects in the future.

    "If we can harness the creativity of all the great minds at the University and in the town of Princeton, we can really make things happen," Sonderman said.


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