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Bill Barrett: QUEST Sculpture Commissioned for Stony Brook University

Quest Stony Brook NY copy 1

Stony Brook University recently commissioned Bill Barrett (B.S. Design 1958, M.S. Design 1959, MFA 1960) to create an 11-foot bronze wall relief for the lobby of the Physical and Quantitative Biology Department. 

I was asked to view images of the DNA Double Helix and create a sculpture from those images, which to me resembled a double ladder. We arrived at a mutually agreeable bronze model that was then enlarged to scale for the lobby. The work QUEST is a very successful artwork for this project. I created a number of DNA maquettes for their selection, as I always do for this type of commission. 

The American Heritage Dictionary defines physics as “[t]he science of matter and energy and the interactions between the two.” It is a definition that strikes at the heart of my own art, and describes the very sculpture that I am proposing to make for the Laufer Center at Stony Brook University. The artistic process — the one leading to the creation of this model, and the one that will lead to its eventual, large-scale form — is physics, exactly. It is the exploration of matter and energy’s interactions, both dynamic and subtle. And yet, while the sculpture Quest embodies the definition of physics by way of its creation, it is also visually representative of the definition by way of its final composition and structure. Using a DNA strand as its reference point, it is visually meant to show us an exchange between matter and energy, to provide us with an example of physics. However, while the sculpture will hang on the wall as a testimony to physics, its meaning will not be, and is not meant to be, overt or overly pragmatic. Rather, it is meant to join the empirical — the definition of physics — together with the more subjective, emotional realm of art. Within Quest’s composition, the shapes themselves are bits of matter. Visually, their forms dance and mingle through the sculpture’s central ribbon, a metaphor for the double helix itself. These shapes twist in motion; they move up, down, in front of, and behind the center strand. When viewing the sculpture from different angles and sides, you will see a change in direction and speed. The abstract shapes interact with one another and with the central ribbon in a completely new and invigorating way. Fresh energy is brought to the matter at hand, thus changing the resulting interactions and sculptural composition. Seen on a larger scale, this effect will be all the more pronounced and dynamic, and the interplay between the forms — the energy they create simply by sharing space and being next to one another — will result in continuously engaging and viewing experiences, with the overall result being the interactions of matter and energy, as articulated in sculptural form.