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2016        17’ high, 18’ wide, 24’ deep

material: stainless steel / bronze matrix; gold leaf; stainless steel cable
site: The McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, Cambridge, MA
fabrication: Bob’s Welding, Central Falls, RI
gold leaf: Bob Lewis, Newton, MA
lighting design: LAM Partners, Cambridge, MA
fabrication consultant: 3D Printsmith, Allston, MA
additive manufacturing: ExOne, North Huntington, PA
engineering: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Waltham, MA
architects: Goody Clancy, Boston, MA
commissioned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology with generous support from Hugo Shong
photographs by Will Howcroft

Helmick Sculpture was engaged by the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT to create an artwork that would reflect the mission of the center’s scientists, faculty and students. A secondary goal was to subtly encourage visitors entering from street level to ascend stairs to the main offices on the third floor.

The result is Schwerpunkt, the German term for “focal point”.

Art, of course, is founded on design. Likewise, superior scientific experimentation is characterized by ingenious design. The human brain is so intricate that the prospect of coaxing order and understanding from such a supremely complex mass seems daunting. But research at the McGovern Institute is distinguished by designs of elegance, even beauty, that are up the challenge. Schwerpunkt is a visual metaphor for this kind of investigation.

One hundred sculptures of neurons are suspended in the 3-story entrance, executed in unique configurations and a range of sizes. Cascading in a seemingly random array, their gold-leafed surfaces harness and reflect light throughout the space. However, when viewed from a single perspective on the balcony, these forms optically cohere into a macroscopic rendering of a human brain. This visual phenomenon, known as anamorphosis, exemplifies a “focal point” of discovery, in this case a schwerpunkt of profound scientific breakthrough.


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