Jim Sanborn in Philadelphia

I spent 48 hours in August eating and drinking my way around Philadelphia (read about it here and here) – I knew it was a huge art city, but that wasn’t the focus of my visit. But then, on the way home to the hotel one evening, we came across this gorgeous piece of art: a metal cylinder inscribed with medical quotations in several languages, lit from within so the words were cast on the surrounding buildings, sidewalk, and people as they walked by.

It turned out to be Ars Medendi by artist Jim Sanborn, who has created similar public installations across the U.S., including one called Kryptos, which since 1990 has been a fixture on the grounds of the CIA building in Langley, Virginia, and includes four sections, one of which is still yet to be decrypted. I was pleased to spot it (or an approximation of it, according to Wikipedia) on an episode of Homeland, in a scene that takes place at the entrance to the CIA building.

The sculpture is on the grounds of a medical research building (part of a university, I think) and the quotations are all relevant to that place: the one in Russian is by Pavlov, the one in Greek by Galen, the one in Chinese by Qi Bo. The cylinder is split into half vertically, so that the same quotation is repeated twice, reversed on one side: readable on the cylinder in one case and on the surroundings, when projected, on the other.

Ars Medendi is public art at its best: not just art for the sake of having art, but adding to the environment and sense of place.


Photos by Kat Tancock


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