University Museums

Title: The Moth
Name: Sculpture
Date: 2008
Medium: Vermont marble
Dimensions: 96 x 70 x 92 1/2 in. (243.8 x 177.8 x 235 cm) Eastern section: 51 x 70 x 20 in Middle section: 96 x 53.5 x 16.75 Western section: 96 x 47.75 x 15.75
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: Commisioned by University Museums. An Art in State Buildings Project for Coover Hall. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Coover Hall, exterior
Object Number: U2008.539abc
More Information
The Moth is ever changing. With each step the viewer takes, the work shifts, as the winged creature can only be seen for what it is from the perfect vantage point on the sidewalk. It changes throughout the day and the year, as the light hits it or passes through it, casting its shadow upon the concrete. Throughout the seasons the insect stands firm against sun, wind, and snow.

The location, near Coover Hall, the electrical and computer engineering building, inspired the sculpture. Legend holds that the first use of the word “bug” to describe technical difficulties occurred in 1947. Harvard computer scientists were working on an early computer, when a moth flew inside the machine. The scientists had to literally “debug” their computer, and made note of it as such in their logbooks. Though that first moth that coined the term was found dead, and had to be picked apart, Adams’ sculpture is about piecing things back together.

In its larger context, The Moth works well as a work of art on a college campus. The puzzle-like, overlapping quality of The Moth reminds us of the complexities of day to day campus life. Its shape acts as a window, framing things in new and surprising ways. It reminds the viewer that they may need to adjust themselves, literally in some cases, to be able to see things differently.

Moths are tiny and have short lives, and The Moth itself does not actually exist – it is only the void, the empty space. The material Adams chose, however, is sturdy and implies permanence, while the grand scale of the art implies importance. This forms a contrast between the tiny, fleeting subject and the way it is portrayed. Adams wrote that he wanted the sculpture to “embody the concepts of invention, perception, precision, and interactivity.”