Archimedes is a reimagined, thirtieth anniversary edition of Listening Vessels, a beloved and iconic Exploratorium exhibit. Douglas Hollis originally created Listening Vessels for the Berkeley Art Museum Matrix program in 1987 and gifted the work to the Exploratorium soon after.
Made of cast bronze and installed on the Exploratorium’s Plaza, Archimedes is comprised of two 8-foot diameter dish-like chairs placed 80 feet apart. Each dish’s parabolic curve collects and focuses sound waves and reflects them to participants seated within them. When both dishes are occupied, even whispers uttered from one dish can be clearly heard by the surprised listener seated in the opposite dish. Ambient sounds become intensified when one experiences a dish solo.
The artwork’s name pays homage to Greek scientist and inventor Archimedes who is described as having designed parabolic reflectors, an array of highly polished bronze or copper shields to burn enemy Roman ships during the Siege of Syracuse (c. 214–212 BC). While Hollis’ Archimedes could theoretically be used to focus both light and sound, the interior is textured to avoid focusing light that could result in fire.