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Geothermal sculptures to appear

Heat, water and art will come together on Kresge Oval on April 15-16 courtesy of Robert Dell, research affiliate with the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. An installation of at least five anthropomorphic geothermal sculptures, each seven to 101/2 feet tall, will display a variety of kinetic activities and create a visual dialogue documenting weather and temperature changes.

This will not be Mr. Dell's first creation of this kind. In 1988, he received a Fulbright research grant--the first awarded to an artist--to develop sculpture incorporating geothermal energy in Iceland, resulting in a permanent installation in Reykjavik. Last fall, he created a temporary installation at Yellowstone National Park powered by the Grotto and Castle Geyser groups. The title for MIT's installation, Reykjavik MIT Yellowstone, indicates its physical location between Mr. Dell's two previous projects.

Since MIT doesn't have the natural geyser and hot spring activity of the other sites, the sculptures will be powered by geothermal simulators developed by Mr. Dell and Guy Pollard, technical instructor in the Department of Physics. These self-contained units act as "a portable heart-lung machine" said Mr. Dell, calling hot water the "blood nutrient for the sculptures."

The hot water and steam circulation system encased in the sculpture creates a heat field that is both warm to the touch and audible. Electricity is generated from the heat without any moving parts, while an area of rock crystal radiates electric light in response to the heat's intensity. The uneven distribution of insulation intensifies or neutralizes the heat's effects, and weather phenomena such as sunlight, rain, wind and changing temperature create what the artist calls a "constantly changing. earth life-force which is a nonthreatening personification of our living planet."


The marriage of art and scientific innovation was a natural for Mr. Dell, whose artistic path led through engineering. "I'd decided to be a civil engineer after admiring some beautiful bridges," he said, but he found the vocation "too confining." His artistic career began with more traditional forms in the 1970s, but a prolonged illness changed his work radically. He recalls becoming "aware of the transitory nature of life and that all life forms are deeply dependent upon this planet," and he reflected this philosophy in sculptures that are more tied to the earth and less self-involved.

"Today we are removed from the earth. We walk on concrete and exist in climate-controlled buildings and automobiles," Mr. Dell said, voicing the hope that his work can "help reduce this artificial separation that we experience as a result of our attempts to control nature."

Reykjavik MIT Yellowstone, which has received funding from the Council for the Arts at MIT and industrial sponsors Melcor Inc. and Hallcrest Products, will operate both days from 3-9:30pm. Mr. Dell will deliver a lecture about his work on Tuesday, April 15, at 7:30pm in Twenty Chimneys in the Stratton Student Center.

Mr. Dell has dedicated the MIT project to Yellowstone Park research geologist Rick Hutchinson, who died in an avalanche subsequent to his supervision of the Yellowstone installation. Reykjavik MIT Yellowstone will be documented by photographer Barry Hetherington and by MIT Video Productions. For more information, call x3-4415.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 9, 1997.

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