Artist Shan Shan Sheng relied on the beauty and symbolism of the double helix shape when she created a site specific glass installation for the Joseph A. Fidel Student Service Center, a public space on the campus of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.
“Rhythms in Growth and Learning” (ca 2007) is a large scale spiro-shaped glass sculpture suspended from a ceiling with cables. The work is made of cold casting glass and is 20′ x 35′ x 20′. It defines the air space of the open atrium of the Joseph A. Fidel Student Service Center (JAF), a three-story steel structure. The artwork is displayed prominently, and is immediately visible to all who enter the space. Sheng described the piece as “reflecting the environment and dichotomy of student and academic life at New Mexico Tech.”
I recently had several hours of free time on the campus of NM Tech. This is our state’s doctoral degree-granting university providing education, research, and service, focused in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The small but demanding academic environment is merely 75 miles south of Albuquerque.
The JAF is a three-story steel structure with 90,312sf filled with a game room, lounges, US post office, coffee bar, dining room and large kitchen, banquet hall, and bookstore. The building has a dramatic entry way that is filled with natural light and geometric floor tiling. Impressive in the large columnar air space is the site-specific suspended glass sculpture by Artist Shan Shan Sheng.
A helix-shape is both figurative and literal. A learning system can be like a helix: a student focuses attention to become receptive to new information, which can be processed with prior knowledge until conclusions and understandings are arrived at, which then are applied and tested for confirmation. As we consider new ideas and advance our understandings of subjects, our intellectual journey may take on a helix-shaped path. A spiro helix is a curve in three dimensional space for many objects, like a screw, or a coil spring, or a tendril of a grape vine. A double helix is the shape of a structure formed by double-stranded molecules of nucleic acids in DNA.
Here are some closeups from various panels assembled in the suspended sculpture: