Contemporary Art and the Mathematical Instinct – Catalogue (2004)

Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth

I found this catalogue when I was first looking at the topic. I must confess I wasn’t impressed at the time, but I’ve come around to some of these forms of art.

Now I know a few of these names – Susan Happersett from Bridges, John Sims, Aiko Hizume.There’s a lot of stuff about visualising maths in pretty ways which I know well from Bridges.

Peter Spooner’s introduction talks about the process of selection for the show centering around the slightly nebulous idea of a “mathematical instinct” or certain way of thinking with concepts and language. He mentions the notion of intent as a means to distinguish artists talking about maths from mathematicians who produce visual images, and picks out some artists, who use “flocking”, statistics, mutating/growing mathematical shapes by introducing mathematical variables, computers which ‘draw’, rapid prototyping (new in those days!) and ethnomathematics. Stephen Luecking writes about mathematical visualisation and ‘modern’ sculpture – geometric surface models, computer visualisation, algorithms and virtual sculpture, genetic art and complexity.

Mathematics: History, Science, Culture

John Sims’ Mathematical Art Brain (2003) is nice, largely for the title – Spooner says it’s ethnomathematical, but I’m not convinced.

He writes about complexity and faith in mathematics, and the lack of use for some of its products, as well as the “ecstasy of focused abstraction”.

The view of mathematics and art is partly responsible for this disconnect. In my view, mathematics has been deified, whereas art has been commonised. Art is thought of as easy and mathematics very difficult. Mathematics is for geeks and art is for the cool. Mathematics is for the unemotional and art is for the sensitive.

[…] The secret is that mathematical and art processes are more aligned than not. Mathematics can be creative and art can be analytical.

Dennis White talks about traditional Ojibwe finger weaving.

Algorithm: Instructions for Making

Some flocking and robotics here, Sol Lewitt, Kazuo Nakamura doing some visual things with numbers.

Geometry: Shapes, Forms, Surfaces

Betty Collings’ biomorphic sculptures are very interesting

“Gold Plume is an eccentric progression made by mirror symmetric conjunctions of paired strings of asymmetrical annuli, one of which is slightly narrower than the other. This disparity sets up a progressive dislocation that changes the form constantly. It begins as a asymmetic torus and, should it continue into infinity, could become an undulating surface very like that of “Open”. In the early part of the progression the orientation changes direction, spiralling between the two directions in a manner similar to turning ones hand over and around 45 degrees.”

Lorella Di Cintio’s Space Blanket, Prototype A (linked surface) is great too. Eleni Mylonas makes lattices from matches and then sets them on fire.

Probability, Statistics and Measurement

Shusaku Arakawa’s That In Which III – Bit reminiscent of the Large Glass. Something interesting here about representation. This is a similar piece:

Arthur Mednick’s American Standard series plays wonderfully with the significance of numbers.

Cuts made precisely into steel nuggets according to some system, some mathematically determined, others odder, such as a codified version of his wife’s name.


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