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I Contain Multitudes


A concept several years in the making, I Contain Multitudes is a sculpture that is simultaneously a permanent artpiece, an ongoing public spectacle, a way to transform the way that monuments operate in America, and a machine that produces a series of permanent limestone monuments for the 21st century. I Contain Multitudes carves a unique permanent monument every year, using human and solar power, and simple 19th century pantograph technology. It is designed for installation in urban plazas or parks. Central to the concept is collaboration with a new artist every year – magnifying their vision and making it a permanent part of public space.


A Human-Powered Public Art Piece that Generates New Art Every Year


A New Kind of Public Art

The idea for I Contain Multitudes came from speaking with young people in an urban location who said, ‘We don’t want a pretty sculpture. Give us something to do. Make us a machine to change the world.’ As an experienced public artist, I find this sentiment echoed in communities all over the country but rarely acted upon.

How it works and why it is different

There is nothing electronic or computerized about this sculpture. A hidden 3D model contains all the information needed to carve the block of stone. The mechanism that carves the stone in response to the shape of the model is similar to the principle behind duplicating lathes used to make axe handles and pantographs used to enlarge sculptures – both technologies that go back centuries. I anticipate that this simple durable system will achieve a resolution of approximately 1/8” in sculpture carving. A tiny diamond wheel slowly carves the block of stone into an enlarged version of the model, taking about a year to do so. I Contain Multitudes relies mostly upon human energy to move the stone around and drive the diamond wheel.

✓  Human-powered when people turn the wheel

✓  The carving wheel follows a hidden scale model that directs the carving

✓  It works slowly even when no one is around

✓  It provides visitors with something to do in a social and physical context, not just something to look at

✓  It is a permanent sculpture, but it is also a public spectacle

✓  It produces permanent monuments for the 21st century

Art with Depth and Diversity

Our nation is filled with monuments that don’t accurately tell our true history. What do we replace false monuments with? Inviting interaction, this sculpture slowly carves a block of limestone into a permanent stone sculpture approximately 5’ wide by 6’ tall. The model for each sculpture will be produced by an artist from communities that want to offer alternative monuments appropriate to a new era. I Contain Multitudes takes approximately one year to complete each sculpture. After each sculpture is finished, the same monument could be made again or an entirely different monument commissioned. 


We expect people will be drawn to I Contain Multitudes initially because it is colorful and provides a social activity. Plus, there is the mystery of the secret form slowly revealed – first the tip of a nose, then the cheekbones, then the ears. But a good art piece has more than just initial appeal. When people visiting this sculpture have had a chance to reflect, we hope that they will realize that this art piece ‘works’ on many levels: the slow turning of the stone evokes the process of time, the slow emergence of the form from the stone evokes the feeling that the future is being slowly made, and the rhythmic beat of the mechanism is like a quiet drumbeat keeping time with the march of history.


Creating Endless Opportunities

The concept has been in the making for several years, but it is the collaboration of these artists that will bring I Contain Multitudes to fruition. On a year-by-year basis it becomes an ongoing program with a new artist involved every year and a new monument created.


Figurative Monuments for the 21st Century

Correcting the Course of America’s Legacy

I Contain Multitudes attempts to go redress some problematic aspects of public art in the United States. Our country is already starting to remove scores of false-historical monuments, leaving a vacuum of human forms in public spaces. This machine seeks to create new monuments for the 21st century, allowing artists from underrepresented communities to suggest new ideals for a new American century.​ 


If these monuments for the 21st century appeared instantly they would lack the gravity and import that occurs when they emerge after a year of work. The small motor that slowly drives the wheel chips away at the future, but things really happen when people join in. As people rotate the driving wheel, the stone rotates faster, the colors change, and the dust falls as the future takes shape.


Appearance and Placement

There are many public places that would be appropriate for I Contain Multitudes. It is tall enough to be seen from above and at night the colored shadows that surround it will be highly visible from afar.

An Interactive Experience

I Contain Multitudes creates a semi-shaded space that is fun to inhabit. It could work equally well in an urban plaza or a grassy park. We chose a large horizontal hand-wheel as the power source for this machine. As visitors turn the large wheel, the sculpture slowly carves a block of limestone into a figure, creating colored shadows, moving lights and the rhythmic background sound of a machine at work. LED lights integrated into the art piece cast colorful shadows at night, including a strong ray of light that rotates around like a lighthouse beam as the stone rotates.


A space to hang out and work with others.

People like to work together in pursuit of a common goal, but sometimes they are alone in public space. Because of this, the wheel accommodates one to five people around its circumference, powering the machine. When no one is at the sculpture, a slow-speed gear motor slowly turns the wheel and carves the sculpture at a barely perceptible rate.

Fun and engaging lighting effects.

The artwork will glow with colorful light during night and day. The lighting effects will invite visitors to gather and will create a beacon seen from a distance.

Rhythmic and engaging sounds at all times.

A subtle drumbeat emerges from the machine as it rotates, with simple mechanical controls to modify it. This sound, like a heartbeat or a rhythm track, suggests the movement of time.

Prototyping a Monument

I Contain Multitudes can work with either a 3D computer-generated file or a hand-sculpted clay model. To demonstrate what is possible, I worked with my good friend Alex Heveri to sculpt a series of figures that express an eagerness to engage, an openness to dialog, and an inner strength and unwillingness to settle for the half-solutions of the past. While I have sculpted an example of the models that the art piece could carve, I am excited to step out of the way and collaborate with other artists to supply the many years of sculptures that I Contain Multitudes will create. My role will be to enable and support the work of other artists.


3D Model and First Prototype

We built a fully functioning prototype that demonstrates a section of a face being carved into limestone. These photos show the carved lips and upper nose of a figurative monument.


Physical Model

A close-up of a physical model of I Contain Multitudes, displaying the night time effects of its LED lighting and colored panels.



Fully-functioning prototype of I Contain Multitudes carving the lips of the bust prototype.

Producing the Hidden Model

Once a finished sculpture is removed from the enclosure and a fresh block of limestone takes its place, a new miniature model of the next upcoming monument will be needed. The model for the new sculpture can be formed in clay, plaster or another physical medium and be digitized by a 3D scanner. Or it may be generated entirely within 3D modeling software. Either way, the form needs to become a 3D digital file that can be scaled in the X and Y dimensions by a factor of 8, but not scaled in the Z dimension. This creates the hidden model that the pantograph follows to cut the stone. This model is then broken into a series of pieces that can each be 3D printed and stacked onto the armature. I Contain Multitudes is actually quite simple and rugged – and it needs to be for deployment in public spaces. The carving is accomplished entirely by a small diamond wheel and a pantograph mechanism.


Interested in collaborating to bring I Contain Multitudes to life? Get in touch!

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