Concerned members of the physics department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa hope to keep the 45-year-old Watanabe Hall Krypton Sculpture from demolition and to restore it to its original state.
The sculpture is a replica of a monolith from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was released 50 years ago in 1968. It was built in 1973 because of its significance to the physical sciences, according to the Public Art Archive.
The nearly 20-foot piece can be found on the sidewalk on Correa Road in front of Watanabe Hall.
“[The monolith] represents progress,” Kevin Croker, one of the university’s postdoctoral researchers, said. “Progress happens every day slowly, but the monolith represents a huge leap forward in progress, seeing it outside of Watanabe Hall as if the next huge leap forward will happen here on our campus.”
In its original form, the sculpture was black and had speakers that played frequencies from the film. The university decided to stop playing sounds from the speakers a year after it was constructed because of noise complaints and an energy shortage.
UH considered removing the sculpture, as it had become derelict over the years.
“It was noticed that there was corrosion on the bottom of the sculpture,” Derek Erwin, conservation coordinator for the Hawai‘i State Foundation On Culture and the Arts, said.
Upon hearing about its possible removal, some members in the physics department contacted the foundation to restore the sculpture to its original form. Erwin, along with concerned members of the physics department then planned its restoration.
The restoration includes repainting the sculpture to its original black color, replacing its speakers and adding a plaque description of it.
“With technology now, I think we’re going to improve on it,” Erwin said. “We’re going to put a better sound system in it...You can play whatever you want on it.”
Croker, who has been involved with the restoration effort, enjoys the idea of the piece at its current state, as it seemingly hides in plain sight, but said he cannot wait to see people crowding around the sculpture after its restoration like the apes in the “2001: A Space Odyssey” movie.
John Learned, another professor involved with the sculpture’s restoration, has been a professor at the university since 1980. Learned praised Arthur C. Clarke, the author of the novel the film was based on, as being a pioneer in the science world because of the many predictions he made in his stories.
“His ideas and concepts were well beyond his time, but to hide a monolith on the moon? Absolutely brilliant,” Learned said, adding that he cannot think of anything better to replace the monolith with.
According to the Public Art Archive, the sculptor of the piece, Bruce Hopper, was tasked with creating a sculpture that represented physical science, eventually choosing the monolith from the film.
“It acts as something to remind us that we are uncovering the secrets of the universe,” Learned said.
The Krypton Sculpture is currently undergoing base repairs to make it stable, along with new internal wiring and a fresh coat of paint.
Croker and others in the physics department would like the sculpture to be a culmination of both arts and science. They are looking to insert a particle detector inside once restoration is complete.
With a large tree in the way, restoration has been delayed a month, but the restoration is expected to be completed in mid to late October.