I teach a course on cryptography, and one of the highlights of that course is the James Sanborn sculpture Kryptos that sits at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Sanborn created Kryptos as a meditation on secrecy, and it features four encrypted messages, only three of which have been solved. Kryptos is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our day, and my students love learning about it. When I mentioned my cryptography course to one of my Iowa City hosts, he told me that there was another James Sanborn sculpture right on campus. I knew I had to see it.
In front of the Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building, you can find Sanborn’s work Iacto, which features a similar look to his Kryptos piece. In both pieces, words and letters are stamped out of thick metal walls. The texts seen in Iacto aren’t encrypted, but they are in a dozen different languages. Each is a “headline” of sorts describing an event from the history of the countries where these languages are spoken. By day you can read the messages in the sculpture and in the shadow it casts nearby. At night, however, lights within the metal cylinder project the headlines all over the surrounding plaza. I wasn’t able to visit Iacto at night, which means I’ll need to return to Iowa City one day!