Sensation: Interior View by Nancy Cohen, Jim Sturm, Shirley Tilghman, A.R. Willey
Sculpture: 12 x 11 x 5 feet. Steel, Resin, Wire and Electrolumiscent Wire.
Sensation: Interior View (2006) is an abstract sculpture by Jersey City artist Nancy Cohen that was inspired by discussions with Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman. Tilghman, a leader in the field of molecular biology, collaborated with Cohen and Princeton University Electrical Engineering Professor James Sturm on the artwork, which is an abstraction about the sense of smell and how odors are recognized and remembered. Multi-colored cast resin discs are affixed to a steel armature forming a wall that connects to bulb-shaped structures by vibrant wires. The different colors of discs represent the sensor neurons in the nose that detect different odorant molecules; the wires represent the axonal connections that pass through the skull to the olfactory bulb in the brain, with the neurons from each type of sensor going to their own specific region in the olfactory bulb. Since Tilghman and Cohen wanted the sculpture to be experienced over time and animated in an unexpected way - prompting the viewer to experience the sense of an organic occurrence - Sturm and students from his lab engineered and fabricated electroluminescent wire elements that light up to simulated the neurons. Each color of wire is meant to represent the response to a different odor. The sculpture will be experienced differently depending on lighting conditions. In bright light the translucent discs and colored wires reflect the sun, as the atmosphere darkens ripples of colored light will be evident traveling back from the wall of randomly arranged discs to the bulbs filled with sorted colors (evoking the neural signal from sensor to the brain). In darkness the moving lights are dramatic and seemingly alive.
Horticulturalist and garden designer A.R. Wiley of Stony Brook Gardens has designed the garden environment for the sculpture. The landscaped environment reflects the ideas of the research and sculpture on several levels, all of which are meant to be subtle and again reveal themselves through time. The plantings were chosen for their fragrances, with Nicotiana opening in the evening with a glorious smell.
The concept for the sculpture was sparked when Tilghman showed Cohen visually interesting and scientifically significant images from molecular biology research, including images from work by colleague Richard Axel from Columbia University. Axel shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 with Linda Buck "for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system." The Quark Park Tilghman-Cohen-Sturm piece is inspired by this research.
- Based, in part, on articles to be published in Symmetry magazine, October, 2006, and the PPPL News, Fall, 2006