Northampton, MA: Propolis Press, 2017. Limited Edition. Sculptural. "The Leyden Jar Project is an interactive book sculpture by Karen Pava Randall with accompanying poetry by Cole Swensen, celebrating the history of early electrical experimentation from the discovery of the Leyden Jar in 1745 to modern times.
The sculptural book object is made up of twelve hand blown Leyden Jars which function as pages for Swensen’s poems. These gilded Leyden Jars are mounted on three shelves of an acrylic box. Copper foil beneath the gold leaf connects each of the jars to an Arduino microprocessor (a sort of mini-computer) in the compartment below the bottom shelf. By touching a jar, the reader sends an electronic request to the microprocessor to play a particular recording of Swenson’s voice. There are 36 poems in all relating to the history of the Leyden Jar.
The Leyden Jar is the earliest form of a capacitor, a device which stores electrical energy. Capacitors are found in most (if not all) modern electronic circuits. You can make a Leyden Jar very simply. Cover the inside and outside walls of a glass or plastic jar with aluminum or copper foil. The classic Leyden Jar has a lid with a metal rod protruding from the top; a chain attached to the bottom of the rod connects to the foil on the inner wall. A Leyden Jar is charged by connecting either the outer layer of foil or the rod to a source of electricity and discharged by simultaneously touching the outer layer and the rod, thus creating a conductive path between the two layers of foil.
During the eighteenth century, experimenters charged their Leyden Jars by generating electricity from friction; sometimes very simply by rubbing a piece of amber or glass, but they also used more elaborate mechanical devices with hand-cranks that increased the speed of at which a glass globe could be rubbed. Famously, Benjamin Franklin proposed a more dangerous alternative means of collecting electricity: capturing lightning with a Leyden Jar. Franklin’s French colleagues successfully proved his theory, drawing lightning down from the heavens through a long rod into a Leyden Jar, providing evidence that lightning was indeed a form of electricity, and thereby immortalizing Franklin in the pantheon of scientific luminaries. The text within this printed book offers a prose history of the Leyden Jar’s discovery and its central role in the evolution of modern physics and radio technology." [artist statement]. Fine. The sculptural book is housed in a clamshell box measuring 7.5 by 9 by 16. Beneath a panel in the box are additional items: a solar panel and a transformer cable which can both be used to recharge the Leyden Jar Project’s battery. At last but not at all least, the Project includes an extended essay presented in a more traditional book format, written by Karen Pava Randall detailing the birth of the Leyden Jar, explaining what a dielectric is, and surveying the Leyden Jar’s role in the discovery of the laws of physics. The Biography of the Leyden Jar is 90 pages long, letterpress printed, and hand-bound. Item #9263