| In January 1979 Senator Carl
Levin commissioned Jim Pallas to build a sculpture that would respond
to the United States Senate. The work, titled The Senate Piece,
was completed and installed a year and ten months later on October
The Senate Piece consists of three sculptures: The Main Piece, The Falling Dollar and One of the Boys. The Main Piece senses five things: the sound of the Senate proceedings which are piped up to the office from the floor of the Senate, the buzzer and light signal system, sounds in Senator Levin's office, the movement of warm objects (usually people) in front of the sculpture, and the genera! light level in the office. It then responds to these stimuli by activating various features of itself and the other two sculptures according to an idiosyncratic logic designed into the circuitry. There is no one-to-one correspondence between any one environmental event and any specific behavior of the sculpture. Generally, One of the Boys only inflates during quorum calls, the dollar may fall at any time, and the action of the wheels of justice is erratic.
From 1963, the beginning of Jim Pallas' use of electricity in his art, he has sought to integrate electronic hardware into both the form and content of the artwork. The circuit board of The Main Piece, with its images and patterns formed by the silver printed circuit pathways. exemplifies that. concern. The artist is not content to let the printed circuit serve merely a decorative purpose.
| He has worked to create much
imagery with the metallic lines that also must meet. the requirements
of the electronics.
The artist prefers not to interpret the symbolism in the work. He feels that the viewer should be free to form his or her own interpretation of the meaning of the work. However, much of the symbolism is obvious.
In The Main Piece, whose overall shape some see as a ship, the eagle facing left is a traditional American image signifying vigilant peace. The eagle is over-laid with a seating chart of the 96th Senate of 1979 and 1980. The large cartoon word balloon containing a qrid of lights suggests some kind of expression or response by the Senate Eagle, The balloon, in turn, hovers above a neoclassic building resembling the Senate wing of the Capitol, but with a pediment composition the artist created with rubber stamps. Below this building is a complex inter-weaving of abstracted images, words and numbers. Within this area. adjacent to the eagle, is a maze-like section the artist refers to as the bureaucracy. The circuitry which forms this section correlates information from all of the inputs and makes decisions regarding the behavior of the three sculptures.
To the right is an array or battlement of arrows or rockets accompanied by a period, an exclamation point, and a question mark. Below all this, almost hidden in the lower right corner of the circuit board, is a fragment of Picasso's Guernica.
| White, plastic coated, welded steel rods form the tower
portion of The Main Piece. These rods vary in diameter
from one-sixteenth Inch to one-quarter inch. The images
in this section, reading from the left, are a prominent
microphone possibly suggesting the role of the media in
American politics; two gun-like photo-cells or "eyes" as
the artist calls them; a "pollsters' window" which contains
an infrared motion detector to observe movement of warm
bodies; a rectangular area filled with nuts and bolts and
odds and ends of common hardware; a framed presentation
of the common four lowest value U.S. coins: penny, nickel,
dime, and quarter, each of which bears a portrait of a
president, Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Washington, respectively. Above the nuts and bolts is a representation of a building which could be a church or meeting hall (In the early days of the colonies, the churches were used as political meeting places). Next to this is a section reminiscent of factory roofs or possibly teeth. To the right of this is a section of enclosed rocks, including a rock from Israel, a bought rock, a stolen rock, and a worked rock (an arrow head found in downtown Birmingham, Michigan)
| .Senator Levin is urged by the artist to add to this collection.
Finally, this area contains two shelves, the one on the left
representing chaos and the other representing order.
On the extreme right, and terminating The Main Piece, are the Wheels of Justice which are purposely designed to function with minimum efficiency or regularity. These gears turn, hit and miss, two positions backward for every three forward, sometimes completely skipping. These geared wheels, In turn, affect the Balance of Justice, tipping the scales alternately one way, then another. Associated with this section are two mirror plaques, one containing an image of a heart (Mercy?), the other a sword (vengeance?). Many Ladders protrude from above and below this section, possibly suggesting ambition, rescue, or escape.
The Falling Dollar is a motor driven series of four gears controlled by The Main Piece. It rarely comes on and then it does so only for a short time. When it does come on, the arm attached to the large gear is slowly raised a short distance. This happens each time it comes on until it finally reaches a point where the free swinging lever causes the attached dollar to flutter down. The dollar then starts its long climb back up.
| The Senate Piece uses a family of
integrated circuits called TTL (transistor-transistor logic) devices
which perform various logic and counting operations. These devices
handle data provided by other circuits which detect events in the
environment. This combined circuitry directs the behavior of The Senate
Piece providing controlling signals to lights, motors and a solenoid.
Much of the circuitry employs binary counters. In the binary counting system there are only two numbers; zero and one. The more familiar decimal system uses zero through nine. A one digit (or bit) binary number can represent one or zero. A two bit binary number can represent zero through four. Here's how a three bit binary number can represent quantities zero through seven:
000 = 0 010 = 2 100 = 4 110 = 6
00 1= 1 011= 3 101 = 5 111= 7
|A four bit binary number, which is most
frequently used in The Senate Piece can count to sixteen. Eight bits
can count to 255 and so forth. A binary counter is sometimes called a
"divide by two" counter because each successive digit changes with half
the frequency of the preceding one. Most of the counters In The Senate
Piece have their bits represented by lights in which the "on" state
represents a zero and the "off" condition represents a one.
These small red, yellow and green lights are in fact light emitting diodes (LED), They are solid state devices, which means they don't wear out, and when electricity passes through them they radiate only in the visible spectrum, which means they produce no heat. The LEDs show the "on/off" condition of almost every logic state in the circuitry.
|"Falling Dollar"||"One of the Boys"||"The Main Piece"|