Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vita Mensae

During the course of my career at OHSU, I have never seen or heard reference to the sculpture located in the courtyard in front of the CROET as anything other than the "half-head." Probably because it is, in fact, a half a head.

Today, I learned its true name: Vita Mensae. Created in 1993 by artist Larry Kirkland, the piece has become a campus landmark and popular point of rendezvous for faculty and students. In the 1999 book Larry Kirkland: twenty-five years, essayist Kenneth R. Trapp writes: "The Head is at the crossroads of the research crescent at OHSU. Etched into the plinth are images which document the history of creative thinking and celebrate diverse concepts which have generated meaning throughout time."

A patron wondering about the symbolism included in the sculpture contacted us for information; we in turn called on our knowledgeable friends from Community Relations who clued us in to the existence of several framed pieces in the glass lobby of the CROET which explain something of the history and design of the building and the art installation outside its doors. In the text concerning Vita Mensae, we have the following quote from Kirkland:
The mind is the voyager of journeys, the center of questioning, the conjurer of fear, the seed of desire, the door of compassion, the creator of joy.
The only mention of the symbolism employed in the piece is a general statement that the plinth contains "images from throughout the ages and diverse cultures of the world," but nothing about the reasons behind the inclusion of certain elements over others.

My questions for the artist would be twofold: is there significance in depicting the right side of the head, rather than the left? And, would it more appropriately be called Vita Mentis? Or does the title rather celebrate the notion that food and conversation inevitably lead to great discoveries? Or the tie between religion and science?

Read the full text of the explanatory plaque below:

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