Bridges 2017 in Waterloo, Canada!

Bridges 2017 was in full swing last weekend, so now it’s time to share some of the highlights of the conference.  Seems like they keep getting better each year!

The artwork was, as usual, quite spectacular.  I’ll share a few favorites here, but you can go to the Bridges 2017 Gallery to see all the pieces in the exhibitions, along with descriptions by the artists.

My favorite painting was Prime numbers and cylinders by Stephen Campbell.

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What is even more amazing than the piece itself is that Stephen makes his own paint!  So each piece involves an incredible amount of work – and the results are worth it.  Visit Stephen’s website to see more of his work and learn a bit more about his artistic process.

I also liked these open tilings of space by Frank Gould.

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Although they are simple in design, the overall effect is quite appealing.  I often find that the fewer elements in a piece, the more difficult it is to coax them into interacting in a meaningful way.  It is challenging to be a minimalist.

This lantern, Variations on Colourwave 17 — Mod 2, designed by Eva Knoll, shows a pattern created using modular arithmetic.

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The plenary talks this year were almost certainly the best I have ever experienced at any conference.  Opening the conference was a talk by Damian Kulash of the band OK Go.  He described his creative process and gave some insight to how he makes his unbelievable videos.

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They really cannot be described in words – one example he talked about was this video filmed in zero gravity in an airplane!  There are no tricks here — just unbridled creativity and cleverness.

Another favorite was the talk by John Edmark.  Many of his ideas had a spiral theme, like the piece you see below.

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But what is fascinating about his work is how it moves.  When this structure is folded inward, it actually stretches out.  This is difficult to describe in words, but you can see a video of this phenomenon on John’s website.  What made his talk really interesting is that he discussed the mathematics behind the design of his work.

Stephen Orlando talked about his motion exposure photography.

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Although seemingly impossible, this image is just one long-exposure photograph — the colors you see were not added later.  Stephen’s technique is to put programmable LED lights on a paddle and photograph a kayaker paddling across the water.

But where is the kayaker?  Notice the background — it’s almost dark.  It turns out that if the kayaker moves at a fast enough rate, the darkness does not allow enough time for an image of the kayaker to be captured.  Simply amazing.  Visit Stephen’s website for more examples of his motion exposure photographs.

There were also many other interesting talks given by Bridges participants, but there is not enough room to talk about them all.  You can always go to the Bridges 2017 website and download any of the papers you’re interested in reading.

But Bridges is also more than just art and talks.  Bridges participants are truly a community of like-minded people, so social and cultural events are also an important aspect of any Bridges conference.

I shared an AirBnB with Nick and his parents a short walk from campus — the house was spacious and comfortable, and really enhanced the Bridges experience.  Sandy (Nick’s mother) wanted to host a gathering, so I invited several friends and colleagues over the Friday night of the conference for an informal get-together.

It was truly an inspiring evening!  There were about fifteen of us, mostly from around the Bay area.  Everyone was talking about mathematics and art — we were so engrossed, it turns out that no one even remembered to take any pictures!  One recurring topic of discussion was the possibility of having some informal gatherings throughout the year where we could share our current thoughts and ideas.  I think it may be possible to use space at the University of San Francisco — I’ve already begun looking into it.

Lunch each day was always from 12:00–2:00, so there was never any need to rush back.  This left plenty of time for conversation, and often allowed time to admire the art exhibitions.  It seems that you always noticed something new every time you walked through the displays.

On Saturday evening of the conference was a choir concert featuring a cappella voices singing a wide range of pieces spanning from the 15th century to the present day.  It was a very enjoyable performance; you can read more about it here.

The evening of Sunday, July 30th, was the last evening of the conference for us.  Many participants were going to Niagara Falls the next day, but we were all flying out on Monday.  We decided to find a group and go out for dinner — and about a dozen of us ended up at a wonderful place for pizza called Famoso.

We chatted for quite some time, and then split up — some wanted to attend an informal music night/talent show on campus, but others (including me and the Mendlers) went to shoot some pool at a local pool hall.  Again, a good time was had by all.

While the first day of the conference seemed a little slow, the rest just flew by.  Another successful Bridges conference!  Nick and I both had artwork exhibited and gave talks, caught up with friends and colleagues from all around the globe, enjoyed many good meals, and got our fill of mathematical art.

Although the location for the next Bridges conference is usually announced at the end of the last plenary talk, these is still some uncertainty about who will be hosting the conference next year.  But regardless of where it is, you can expect that Nick and I will certainly be there!

Art Exhibition: Golden Section 2017

Yesterday, artists from the Golden Section of the Mathematical Association of America contributed to yet another art exhibition!  Each Spring, members of the MAA from Northern California, Nevada, and Hawaii attend a regional conference — this year, at Santa Clara University.

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Woven, by Nick Mendler.

Last year the event was held at the University of California, Davis, and Shirley Yap from California State University, East Bay organized a highly successful exhibit — what we believe to be the first art exhibition ever to be a part of a sectional MAA meeting.  I asked Shirley to say a few words about what motivated her to take on this task.

I exhibited an art piece at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in 2016. It was an interactive piece and I wanted to see how people would experiment with it.  So I just hung around the exhibit for a while and not only saw how people played with my piece, but how they observed other pieces. The kind of delight that came from people’s faces convinced me that the art was really drawing them to math in a way that was different from how I had seen before. Perhaps because one is expected to sit in front of art for a long time to contemplate it, people felt relaxed enough to enjoy it.  Whatever it was I saw, I knew that I wanted to share the experience with others outside of the JMM.

When we put a call for artists out on our Golden Section website, we didn’t get any responses. So I went through years of JMM art exhibit catalogs and looked up each artist to see if they lived in our section.  Then I just started emailing them individually to ask if they were interested in showing their work at a local exhibition.

This year, I offered to help Shirley with organizing the exhibition.  Given what was involved in the second year, I have a new appreciation for Shirley’s dedication to spreading the word about mathematical art.  Such events do not organize themselves — and we are all grateful Shirley took on this huge task to start a new Golden Section tradition.

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Red Mandala, by Frank Farris.

We didn’t have as many artists participate this year — but that’s part of the ebb and flow of yearly events like these.  But the quality has high, as was the enthusiasm of the artists.  Two of the artists this year were undergraduates — Nick Mendler from the Univiersity of San Francisco, and Juli Odomo from Santa Clara University.  I think of them as future organizers of sectional MAA art exhibits….

In the morning, we had the usual opening remarks and a series of excellent speakers.  The art exhibit took place in parallel with the Student Poster Sessions, which took place after lunch from 1:00-2:30.  This was followed by another series of talks.  You can see the full program here.

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Islamic 8-fold Fractal Flower (Median), by Phil Webster.

I asked the artists to say a few words about their experience about creating or exhibiting mathematical art.  Here a few remarks.

Frank Farris (see artwork above):

I love the idea that we’re entering a golden age of mathematical art. New tools become available all the time and a growing community is finding new creative ways to use them. Can’t wait to see what the next years will bring.

I believe the sentiment in Gwen’s quote resonates very strongly with many mathematical artists.

Gwen Fisher:

The thing that keeps bringing me back to bead weaving is mathematics. Of course, I love colors of glass beads and the way they sparkle, but mostly, I keep returning to my seed beads because I keep finding new ways to use and represent mathematical structures with them.

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Pixel Painting Number VI “Sunnyvale Boogie Woogie” by Gwen Fisher.

Nick Mendler (see artwork above):

Since my first sectional meeting last Spring, I’ve continued research into the questions that generated my first mathematical artwork over a year ago.
Recognizing that my projects and thoughts are the most rewarding when realized through an aesthetic process has been not only productive, but has been a fascinating source of guidance to new questions. That focusing on more elegant images brings about more elegant mathematics has been only too clear from the sessions I’ve attended so far; I’m looking forward to seeing and learning from more art pieces!

Interested in organizing an art exhibit in your section?  Since I helped Shirley with the organizational details this year, I can say a bit about what’s involved in putting together an exhibition.

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Intense discussion about mathematical art at the exhibition.

The first step is, clearly, finding artists who want to show their work.  It would be easier to get a student worker to do the search Shirley undertook — but don’t forget about the exhibitions at the Bridges conferences!  Here is a link to both JMM and Bridges galleries.  You can also contact the SIGMAA-ARTS and request that an email blast be sent to members.

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Symmetric Koch Curve I, by Vince Matsko.

As far as the submission process goes, that’s pretty standard.  While it is always nice to accept every submission, sometimes it just isn’t possible.  The works should have some real mathematical content, and be of good quality.

Since not all artists necessarily have business cards (especially student artists), I had the idea of making nametags for those who wanted one.  You can download this nametag template in LaTeX if you would like, then edit and print onto cardstock.  (Note:  WordPress would not let me upload a .tex document, so I saved it as an Open Office document.)

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A Fine Mesh We’re In, © dan bach 2016.

It is a good idea to have an assistant or a student helper in the exhibition venue during the conference.  Not all artists attended the meeting, and so brought in their work at various times during the day.

Shirley had the wonderful idea of arranging a dinner for contributing artists after the conference.  Last year we went to an excellent Thai restaurant, and this year, Frank Farris generously offered to host a pot luck dinner (he provided the lasagna) at his house.  These have been very wonderful events, and give artists the opportunity to get to know each other a little better.

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A subset of the artists at the celebratory post-exhibition pot-luck.  (Photo by Frank Farris.)

Finally, I wanted to mention that I am in the middle of my second time teaching Mathematics and Digital Art at the University of San Francisco.  I say this in the event you are interested in offering such a course at your university.  I have written extensively about this experience on my blog, and also have all course materials as well as a day-by-day outline available on the  Fall 2016 course website.  I would be happy to help you get such a course off the ground if you’re interested.

If you would like more information, or want to get in touch with any of the artists whose work is shown above, please make a comment and I’ll get back to you.  I hope this is just the beginning of a long tradition of having mathematical art exhibits at sectional MAA meetings!