Senate Piece

This artwork was reinstalled in Senator Levin's conference room in October, 2001 where it attracted the attention of Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Debbie Stabenow. (Photos)

The Main Piece

In January 1979, Senator Carl Levin asked me to build a sculpture that would respond to the United States Senate. The work, titled THE SENATE PIECE, was completed and installed in the Senator's Washington office a year and ten months later on October 17, 1980.


THE MAIN PIECE, pictured above, senses five things: the sound of the Senate proceedings which are piped up to the office from the floor of the Senate, the buzzer and light signal system, sounds in Senator Levin's office, the movement of warm objects (usually people) in front of the sculpture, and the general light level in the office. It then responds to these stimuli by activating various features of itself and the other two sculptures according to an idiosyncratic logic designed into the circuitry. There is no one-to-one correspondence between any one environmental event and any specific behavior of the sculpture. Generally,ONE OF THE BOYS only inflates during quorum calls, the dollar may fall at any time, and the action of the wheels of justice is erratic.

3 minute clip from Sue Marx's 1981 Emmy-winning film "Jim Pallas:Electronic Sculptor".

A problem cropped up shortly after the sculptures were installed. Visitors to the Senator's office often wanted to know about the sculpture, how it worked. Senator Levin got the length of his answer down to about two minutes, but for visitors who sometimes had only a five minute appointment, it took precious time out from their visit. He needed a way to satisfy their curiosity without using up their time. So I produced a one sheet handout that would answer the most frequently asked questions. To answer the query of "How does it work?", I drew a kind of flow chart  and included it in a brochure.

From 1963, the beginning of my use of electricity in art, I have sought to integrate electronic hardware into both the form and content of the artwork. The circuit board of THE MAIN PIECE, with its images and patterns formed by the silver printed circuit pathways, exemplifies that concern. I have worked to describe much of the imagery with the metallic lines that also must meet the requirements of the electronics. I like the printed circuit to serve both a functional or a decorative purpose.
detail of "The Main Piece"

The Levin Hitchiker is another collaboration I did with the senator.
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