Pushing the boundaries of book-ness, the twelve Leyden Jars of the book sculpture speak out loud when touched. Reading has always been a tactile, visual, and auditory experience, though generally when we read a traditional book we 'hear' the voice of the author in our minds as we ‘voice’ the text internally. The pages of The Leyden Jar Project return us to the oral origins of poetry, while the project as a whole explores the deep history of technology. 

How it works

Created in an edition of twelve, the Leyden Jar Project consists of an acrylic box and twelve glass jars. The translucence of the acrylic and the glass are contrasted by the bands of gold (leaf over copper foil) encircling each of the jars. These conductive metal surfaces are connected to an Arduino microprocessor stored in a compartment below the bottom shelf of jars. When a jar is touched, a signal is sent to the microprocessor, which causes it to play a recording of one of the thirty-six poems in this book; each jar ‘contains’ three poems, which are played according to the length of time that the jar has been touched.

Wielding her brush with a deft hand, Cole Swensen paints a delectable landscape electrified by the many figures of the Leyden Jar’s curious past. Sulfur globes, paper horses, concreted humors, tiny wooden mannequins, “gaseous mixtures that used to be boys,” and the lips of the Venus electrificata are some of the many inhabitants of this cabinet of curiosities; while we are ourselves moths caught by the kite that electricity built and “annealed to the surface of the night.” Our perception is subtly shifted as the visible and invisible word-waves of the electro-magnetic spectrum wash over us: “The human / as an experimental technology not unlike / the tethered thunder / rumbling over Marly / translating Franklin into village lightning.” I was thrilled to receive these thirty-six poems sent in bits and bytes at the speed of light from Paris and even more delighted to present Swensen’s voice recorded digitally in Providence, Rhode Island to you now. These poems don’t merely chart a history of science. They reignite wonder.

"In the Leyden Jar Project, Cole Swensen and I present our own, very individual celebration of the history of interdisciplinary creativity. In her spoken texts, Cole engages with the historic figures as a poet; her attention to the interplay between sounds, meanings, and grammatical structures is a very different ingress into the history than this essay. And the accompanying book-sculpture is my attempt to make the history of electricity come alive via tactile experience with Leyden Jars. My goal has been to provide the poetic / artistic-minded person a point of entry into the history of electrical science." -- an excerpt from the Biography.