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!

Bridges: Mathematics and Art III. Jyvaskyla, Finland!

After a 24-hour journey yesterday, I finally returned home from my month-long trip to Europe.  Not that Vienna and Florence weren’t fantastic, but I must admit that Bridges 2016 was the highlight of my trip!  I’d like to share some especially memorable moments of the conference this week.

Of course the most memorable is the annual Art Exhibition.

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I’ll discuss some of the pieces in this post, but there is no way to include them all!  Luckily, there are online galleries for all the Bridges conferences.  You can access them at the  Bridges online art galleries, although the gallery for Bridges 2016 is not up yet (but will be soon).

Two of the most memorable displays in the exhibit (no bias here, of course!) are my two pieces,

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and my student Nick Mendler’s two pieces (the second piece is shown later).

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It’s a real pleasure just to walk among the artwork and admire the intricacy of the pieces close-up.  Pictures absolutely do not do justice to the experience….  Some pieces which particularly stood out for me were these spheres created by Kiyoko Urata.

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Look closely at how they are made.  The medium is silk thread.  Yes, these are knitted!  These models won the award for Best Craftmanship, and they definitely deserved it.

Many of the talks in the Bridges conferences were about works in the exhibition, but not all.  I was particularly fascinated by a talk given by James Mai of Illinois State University (click here to read the full paper).  He discussed Josef Albers’ series Homage to the Square; one piece in the series is shown below (image courtesy of Wikipedia).  I have written about Josef Albers before (see Day002), so you might imagine I was rather interested in seeing this talk.

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I’d seen these images before, but I just thought they were color studies.  The point of the talk was to suggest that there are many possible ways to interpret these figures.  For example, a naive interpretation is just to look at this image as four squares, one on top of each other.  What fascinated me was how many other ways there are to look at this series by Albers.

For example, what if some of the square are transparent?  Then some of the colors you see are the result of other colors showing through some of the squares.  But which ones?  What combinations of transparency are possible?  If we take it a step further, we might imagine that there aren’t four squares, but perhaps some frames — that is, squares with smaller squares cut out.  Further still, one or more of these frames might also be transparent.

In total, Albers produced over 1000 images of four different configurations of squares in this series (see the paper for details).  In the talk, James Mai found that there are in fact 171 different combinations of frames/transparency that are possible!  This is an entirely different level of complexity that I never imagined possible in this Albers series.  I intend to discuss this phenomenon in my Mathematics and Digital Art course this fall, so be sure to follow along if you’re interested to see more.

Nick and I did talk about our own work.  I was happy with my talk, which prompted a lot of questions from the audience — always a good sign!  Nick really did well for a first time at a conference like this.  He had 15 minutes allotted for his talk, and if you’ve never given a short talk, you may not realize how difficult it is.  As Nick and I sat through sessions, I kept noting to him how rushed many of the presenters were at the end because they spent too long at the beginning getting into their talk.

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But Nick had no time issues at all.  We worked at getting rid of a few slides which took too much time to explain — Nick talked through the remaining slides at a leisurely pace, and even had a few minutes for questions at the end.  Really well done.

One special treat was a talk on spherical mirrors given by Henry Segerman.  It really can’t be described in words, but if you look at his YouTube channel, you’ll find some truly amazing videos.  I highly recommend it!

There were also many scheduled events outside the university.  Again, there is no way to describe them all, but my favorite was the exhibition by Rinus Roelefs (who was attending the conference) at the Art Gallery of Central Finland’s Natural History Museum.  This was a spectacular display of polyhedra with a special opening night during the conference.

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There must have been at least 200 models exhibited, all very intricate and exquisitely assembled.  See my Twitter @cre8math for more pictures of this one-of-a-kind display.

Expect the unexpected — if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll recall I posted about “found art” just walking around the streets of Florence.  There was a really wonderful surprise along the pedestrian walkway through central Jyvaskyla.

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Not much explanation is needed here — but it was just so neat to find this piece in the middle of the street!

Hopefully this gives you a sense of the atmosphere of the conference.  Truly magical!  If you are really interested, Bridges 2017 is in Waterloo, Canada, so it’s a lot easier to get to than Jyvaskyla, Finland.  Nick and I are already determined to attend, and will be starting our planning later this Fall.  I’m planning to give a report on my Mathematics and Digital Art course I’m teaching this semester, and Nick is hoping to take his investigations into the third dimension and make some awesome movies.  You’re welcome to join us in Waterloo for Bridges 2017!

 

 

 

 

Bridges: Mathematics and Art I

Just registered for Bridges 2016 last week!

Simply put, Bridges is the best mathematics conference ever.  You meet people from all around the world who are interested in the interplay between mathematics and art.

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Sculpture at Bridges 2015 in Baltimore

Not just M. C. Escher, either (though many are interested in his work).  Some Bridges attendees (shall we call them Bridgers?) are artists by profession, but others are mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists — you name it.  All are artists by vocation.

Interests span not only art in a more usual sense — watercolor, acrylic, oil, pastel, drawing — but also digital art, sculpture in almost any medium you can think of, poetry, architecture, music, fiber arts, dance, digital animations and movies, fashion, origami, and likely there will be some new art form introduced this summer as well!

The art exhibition is amazing.  You can see a few examples above.  You see the wooden spiral?  Each inlaid rectangle is a different piece of wood!  The craftsmanship is really superb.

One neat aspect is that most of the artists also attend Bridges.  That means if you see something you really like, you can just look for the right name tag and start up a conversation.  As you would expect, all the artists are eager to discuss their work.

Be ready for some surprises, too.  I met my friend Phil Webster at the conference – we starting talking because I was from San Francisco, and he also lives in the Bay area.  So we’ve met up a few times since the conference to discuss mathematics, art, and programming.  He even gave a talk in our Mathematics Colloquium at the University of San Francisco.  Of course, his talk was great….

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Even if you don’t go to the conference, you can still appreciate all the art.  You can visit the Bridges 2015 online gallery and see all the art that was exhibited.  Not only are there descriptions of all the works by the artists themselves, but there’s also contact information so you can get in touch if you’d like.  Please do!

The Bridges 2016 gallery is not online yet, but I’ve got two pieces accepted for this year’s exhibition.  This is my favorite.

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Then there are the talks.  You learn so much just by going to them.  The range of topics is incredibly diverse — look back at the list above!  Last summer, I gave a talk about Random Walks on Vertices of Archimedean Tilings.  My favorite work discussed in the paper is Bear.  You can read the paper to learn how it was made, if you’re interested.  The first print of Bear is hanging in my friend Cory’s house in Florida.  Hi, Cory!

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As you’ll see if you click on the link to my paper, there is an archive of all papers — over 1000! — given at Bridges conferences since 1998.  What’s nice is that you can actually search for specific topics, so it’s easy to use.  No shortage of reading material on mathematics and art….

In addition to the exhibition and all the presentations, there are also dance performances, poetry readings, theatre performances, movie showings, a music night — any number of interesting activities relating mathematics and art.  If you want to learn more, just go to the Bridges 2016 website.  There’s complete information on the upcoming conference there.

This year, the conference is being held at the University of Jyväskylä in Jyväskylä, Finland.  I’ve never been to Finland before, so I’m looking forward to an exciting trip!  What’s also nice about the conference is that in the evenings, you can just take a stroll with other Bridgers, looking for some interesting place to have dinner.  I always love exploring new countries, and especially like trying new cuisines!

But even though Bridges 2016 is in July, I actually starting preparing last November.  Since there was a January deadline for submitting papers to the conference, and since I knew I’d be doing a lot of traveling over our Winter Break, I wanted to get an early start.  The papers are all reviewed by three referees, so your mathematics should be sound.  Usually they have comments to make, and so you often need to make some revisions a few months later before a final submission.

My paper is on fractals this year.  A lot of what I wrote in that paper you’ve already seen on my blog — but I’ll be sure to give a link when I write a follow-up post on Bridges 2016 later on in the summer.  Here’s one of my favorite images discussed in the paper.

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There are deadlines to submit artwork as well, so it’s important to be organized.  For both papers and artwork, the online submission system is actually really easy to use.  I just wanted to let you know something about the process so you can submit something to next year’s conference….

Last Fall, I received an email about a new addition to the Bridges menu — student scholarships.  And in my calculus class, I had a student Nick who is a double major in mathematics and art.

Turns out Nick was really interested in trying to submit to Bridges, so we worked out a one-credit directed study course just for that purpose.  As of this moment, I’m happy to say that two of Nick’s artworks were accepted!  And we just submitted the final revisions to his paper, and are waiting to hear back.  We should know about the scholarship soon — I’ll update this post when I have more information.  One of my favorite images from Nick’s paper is this one.

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You can read the paper to see how he creates it….link to follow.

So think about including Bridges in your future travel!  Many artists bring their families and make a summer vacation out of the conference.  It’s quite an experience.

And if you’re a student, consider submitting as well!  Maybe you’ll earn a scholarship to attend:  here’s more information on the Student Travel Scholarship.  Preference is given to those student who submit papers, artwork, or movies.

You will need a letter from one of your teachers or professors — so ask someone to be your mentor.  If you can’t find someone, well, just ask me.  I’ll be glad to help out (as long as I don’t get too many requests!).

Later on in the summer, I’ll tell you all about the experience.  Hope to see you at some Bridges conference soon!

P.S. (10 July 2106):  Nick did receive the travel scholarship.  Congratulations!