I was invited, by a friend, to attend the Zero to Infinity event at the Dana Centre South Kensington (Thursday 20th November 2008).
A quick look at the panellists and the topic for discussion sparked some interest with me. These panellists included:
Paul Prudence, generative artist
Eleanor Robson, historian of mathematics, University of Cambridge
Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician, University of Oxford
Jane Wess, curator, Science Museum
Facilitator: Rachel Thomas, Editor, Plus magazine
From this list of names only one stood out to me and that was Marcus du Sautoy. I had recently viewed his documentary “The Story of Maths–The Language of the Universe” on the BBC (thanks for telling me about it Simon) and thought he was great at explaining math related theories in a friendly and an easy to understand way.
The four very different backgrounds of the panellists was great as it provided different views on the same subject. It was clear that different uses of the mathematical theories relating to infinite numbers, the idea of multiple infinities and whether the number zero is something real or abstract can allow for connections in different areas of practice and study.
Midway through the talk we were split into two groups to participate in a short workshop first off with Marcus du Sautoy. This was a brilliant and practical demonstration to help us understand how one infinity could be larger than another. Ok there were many things floating about such as how fractions and decimal numbers could be used to check against whole number and negative numbers and this was delving into scary territory for me – maths not being my forte. So these further explorations into different types of numbers, rational and irrational, and the stark statement from Du Sautoy that there are different types of mathematics just completely lost me. At one point I had to just accept that there are many possibilities out there in the universe numbers and mathematics are perceived and manipulated to prove various theories using various methods.
Even then, Du Sautoy’s enthusiasm made the workshop enjoyable. Even though there were, well lets say, some brains participating too who were determined to prove something by asking questions that could only really lead to a debate that the rest of us wouldn’t be able to keep up with, it was quite funny to see that not everyone had the same views. And I’m pretty sure one man was actually flirting with him and using his mathematical knowledge to impress him!
Anyway so the next workshop was more of a historical look at how the number zero came into existence and its early use by the ancient Babylonians who kept records of how many different types of cattle were collected and received for the king. This part of the workshop was overseen by Eleanor Robson of Cambridge University. She explained that the Babylonians used to make marks representing different numbers on chunks of clay. This allowed for the accounts to be preserved for thousands of years. An empty space basically represented a zero. Of course their idea of the number zero was used merely for counting that something was not there but not in the same way it is now used for example for negative numbers and calculations of the abstract kind.
We also looked at some of the shapes included in a mid 17th century wooden learning box – based on the teachings and principles of Euclid’s geometry. These were original items from the Science Museum’s collection and explained to us by curator Jane Wess. The collection included abacuses from China, Japan and the West where the base numbers for counting were all different.
Having reached the last part of the evening we heard from Paul Prudence; a generative artist and Video Jockey (VJ) whose work was displayed on the screen in the room. The display was of moving tesselated digital imagery. These images were based on geometric forms relating to the theories we had been hearing about earlier in the evening and in the workshops.
View a video of his work here: http://www.transphormetic.com/2_talysis2/talysis01.htm>/a>
Fast Fourier Radials
I was in awe. He had succeeded in creating digital work based on geometric shapes and from this were produced beautiful patterns. So obviously all of this started ringing bells in my head. I was thinking to myself ‘I need to ask this guy some questions and find out what processes he is involved in, what software, which techiniques, etc etc’. I was very curious. So I waited till most people had started dispersing after the talk and told him about the MA and why his work was of particular interest to me in relation to my project. He gave me some of his business cards and encouraged me to take as many as I wanted, as he had so many and each had a different image on the back (stills from his work). They were really cool so I took six 🙂
I found a lot more information about Prudence’s work and recent project history on his website: http://www.transphormetic.com/
And I don’t think I could be any more amazed and slightly jealous. He uses Flash and ActionScript to write programs which then produce the patterns and some of them in real time!!! The use of algorithms and mathematics (written into the ActionScript) means that numbers can be used to produce 3d effects of shapes within certain spaces. These have boundaries in which the pattern might become curved along the outer curve of a sphere or within the inner curve and so producing both a convex and concave look with the shapes getting smaller or larger as they move along, further toward or away from the x axis. Ok I’m not sure if I explained this the right way.
Heres what he’s got in the biography section of his site which pretty much sums up his skills quite impressively:
Artist and real-time visual performer working with computational and visual feedback systems and video. Uses VVVV, Flash & processed Digital Video. Lecturer on visual music and syneasthetic art.
Researcher and writer at Dataisnature.
Freelance Interaction Designer and ActionScript Developer. Authoring chapters in a few books relating to computational design with Actionscript.
I’m glad to see a clear example of how a contemporary approach using the latest in technology and programming skills can be made the most of in order to produce something that connects all the ideas that are bought to light in the subject of geometry, shapes, and space (more specifically numbers and their connection to the theories of science and physics of the universe). I mentioned in an earlier post that it was hard to make the connections between the different subject areas as they could become very diverse and branch off into their own projects all together. But this is a great example to show that it is possible to make those connections apparent in one piece.
I feel inspired and have a positive feeling about achieving something great, as a result of this project. God willing 🙂