“What Hath God Wrought?”, the 20th artwork in the Stuart Collection of public art at UC San Diego, was erected this past weekend at the entrance to Revelle College. It consists of a tall metal pole with a flashing light at the top.
The sculpture was conceived by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford. At 197 feet, it surpasses Building One in The Village at Torrey Pines for the title of tallest structure at UCSD. The light at the top of the pole flashes in Morse Code the titular message, “What hath God wrought?,” the first message Samuel Morse transmitted from Baltimore to Washington in 1844.
When asked about the meaning behind the installation, Stuart Collection Director Mary Beebe recounted walking through the Revelle campus with Bradford, Revelle administrators, and a student. She explains how Bradford became inspired by a 1961 plaque outside Urey Hall, placed there during the university’s founding.
“Mark, the artist, got really excited… because [the plaque represents] the beginning of the university, and the beginning of time or communication as we know it,” Beebe told The Triton. “[The plaque] was signed by everybody from [first Chancellor] Herb York to [university founder] Roger Revelle to [then-Governor] Ed Brown, Jerry Brown’s father.”
In that sense, Beebe said the piece signifies how advanced communication technology has become, while commemorating UCSD’s role in this progress.
The sculpture towers over Urey Plaza, across from both the university’s oldest and newest buildings—Urey Hall and Tata Hall, respectively. The area around it remains fenced off as the university completes renovations to the plaza.
Bradford will visit UCSD on December 1 to officially inaugurate the piece in an event that will be open to the campus community. A 2016 MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient, the gay, Black, socially-conscious artist is one of the heaviest hitters in modern American art.
The New York Times describes his body of work as “paintings [he makes] without brushes or…paint.” Of his sculpture in LAX airport, “Bell Tower,” Bradford told The New Yorker, “‘Whether you like it or not, it’s contemporary art in an airport, and it does exactly what I wanted it to do—makes people think.’”
“What Hath God Wrought?” has had the same impact on students since its arrival, creating buzz in UCSD’s Reddit and Facebook communities. Some expressed excitement and attempted to decipher the Morse code message, while others expressed concerns about the location and cost.
Notably, the Stuart Collection is self-sustaining, meaning that donations to the collection cannot go to other areas of the university and vice versa. This latest installation, six years in the making, went through its own fundraising process prior to its installation.
The previous work, “The Wind Garden” by John Luther Adams, was installed in Revelle College in 2017. The sole fully auditory experience in the art collection, it uses ambient sounds to warble a unique symphony through the eucalyptus grove.
Next, the campus will be welcoming a familiar face with Alexis Smith’s upcoming massive mural titled “Same Old Paradise.” Smith designed the now-iconic “Snake Path” winding east from Geisel Library down to Warren Mall. The mural, which will be installed in the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, inspired “Snake Path” and features the same serpent prominently.
Smith’s work, with its references to the Garden of Eden, is unmistakably biblical in its nature. Despite its referencing a quote from the Book of Numbers, Beebe emphasized that Bradford’s contribution to the Stuart Collection only focuses on the secular theme of communication’s evolution since Morse’s fateful message.
“When you think about communication, I mean, now we have a president who tweets,” Beebe said. “We can’t live without our cell phones, so it’s sort of amazing, what has happened since then.”
Rohan Grover is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. You can follow him @rohangro