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Public Art Field Guide: Invisible Forces

The art you pass on your daily stroll.

Strolling down the 2500 block of Clarendon Boulevard, one might wonder how a giant cairn came to sit in the middle of the grass outside the Electronic Industries Association building. The towering monolith, resembling a stack of stones, is in fact one of the oldest installations of public art in Arlington (installed in 1987), not a trail marker.

The responsible sculptor is Jim Sanborn, who grew up in Arlington and Alexandria, and is most famous for his cryptographic sculpture, aptly named "Kryptos," that sits outside the CIA headquarters in Langley. His Arlington statue, titled "Invisible Forces" is made of red granite, quartz, lodestone and stainless steel.

Given Sanborn's history of conbining cryptic linguistic puzzles and public art, some believe all his statues, including "Invisible Forces," contain some sort of hidden message. Sanborn has previously denied such a notion. His Arlington statue, rising nearly 18 feet high, does, however, offer an erie and mysterious aura, reminiscent of Stone Henge, and other strangely assembled rock formations.

Sanborn is known for creating a sense of mystery in his work, frequently employing American stone and envoking the more curious aspects of nature. One of the smooth lodestones lying around the edge of the stone arrangement has a compass rose carved into its face, with North being slightly off kilter from true magnetic North. Maybe the statue really is a marker for lost pedestrians--or aliens.

Down one face of the multisided column is a beautiful ziz-zagging stainless steel streak, recalling a meandering river or a bolt of lightening. This is yet another aspect of the statue that simultaneously recalls nature and further plays up the sense of intrigue.

Sometimes, Sanborn's work embodies nature so effectively, it blends in. Local Clarendon resident Elizabeth T. says she walks down this sidewalk all time, but she says, "That statue has never even grabbed my attention, I guess I'm always so set on where I'm going."

Certainly the front yard of a trade associaton is not the most happening place. But next time you're walking by, slow down and take a look at "Invisible Forces," you might be inspired to sit a while and ponder--the weather isn't too bad for that this time of year. 'Til next time...

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