‘Like God Would Play Marbles’

Let the spheres fall where they may.

July 2022

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Photo of SEQ Balls.

Photo: Andrew Brodhead

We often think of art installations as being meticulously planned, but this one was determined by chance. Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade built a 1:100 scale model of Stanford’s Science and Engineering Quad, threw a dozen marbles into it a handful of times, then picked the arrangement she liked best. “It’s a little bit like God would play marbles,” says Kwade in a video of the installation. Pars pro Toto—Latin for a part that represents the whole—includes 12 stone spheres sourced from eight different countries and ranging from 16 to 98 inches in diameter. 

The project was launched by engineering dean Jennifer Widom, who says the outdoor work “brings a new dynamism and vitality” to the quad. Kwade says in her artist’s statement that the many-hued orbs represent a small galaxy that evokes infinite possibilities. “Each stone represents a self-contained world or universe, drawing on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which suggests that all possible alternate histories and futures are real.”

Isaac Lozano, ’25, is an editorial intern at Stanford. Email him at  stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

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