JMU Exhibit To Explore Intersection Of Math, Art

‘Golden Rectangle’ Display Opens Feb. 5

Posted: January 31, 2013

James Madison University’s exhibit, “Outside the Golden Rectangle,” will explore the relationship between math and art, which can be observed in a flower’s petal pattern. (Photo by Aimee George / DN-R Features)
The exhibit, located in Roop Hall, Room 208, will run through March 29. (Photo by Aimee George / DN-R Features)
Origamist Robert Lang can create an intricately detailed chameleon, with careful folds for its eyes, horns, a neck frill, curled tail, legs and feet — all with one sheet of uncut, square paper.
The artist has entered several pieces, including “Jackson’s Chameleon, opus 308,” to be featured in “Outside the Golden Rectangle” at James Madison University, which opens Feb. 5.
The event will host several artists and displays demonstrating the intersection of art and mathematics, according to Daniel Robinson, the assistant director of the Institute for Visual Studies.
IVS, a program developed in 2005, works with professors and students to meld different disciplines into one class.
Each of the four artists’ works demonstrate ways math and art intersect as an introduction to the class, co-taught by art professor Corinne Diop and math professor Elizabeth Brown. Themes include randomness, algorithms and perspective.
Lang’s work generally focuses on the natural world — as exemplified by the hundreds of creatures on his website — each delicately folded down to the last antennae, shell plate, scale, antler, toe and cloven hoof.
One piece, “Treehopper, opus 256,” is a tiny frog, smaller than a quarter.
Origami is an art that takes as much planning as it does folding, explained Lang, who studies the mathematics behind the art.
“I spend a fair amount of time designing a work before I ever start folding,” Lang said. “A figure with a complex structure is not something that can be designed purely based on intuition, at least, not by me.”
Lang also hopes to point out the different practical and everyday uses of origami. In a 2008 TED talk (Technology, Entertainment and Design), he discussed how origami is used in telescopes and medical instruments, such as heart stents, that have to unfold while inside the body and fold back up when outside the body.
“Problems that you solve for aesthetic value only, or to create something beautiful, turn around and turn out to have an application in the real world,” Lang says in the talk. “And as weird and surprising as it may sound, origami may someday even save a life.”
Instead of finding mathematics restrictive, Lang thinks the field actually heightens his sense of creativity.
“I can have all the great ideas in the world, but if I have no way to realize them, they won’t go anywhere,” Lang said. “Mathematics is what allows the creativity to blossom.”
Diop agreed that thinking about art in this way can be liberating.
“It may seem paradoxical, but having some limits or a defined process in art making can actually be freeing,” she said. “For example, when I give a student an assignment, they can figure out how to be creative within the parameters I gave, but if I just said they can make whatever they want, they might not know where to start.”
On the other side, Brown highlighted how art, in turn, can positively influence math.
“Mathematics is notoriously difficult to communicate,” she said, “and if you have good representation of it, then it can go a long way to reach other people and other mathematicians.”
Lang hopes that those who attend the exhibit and examine his work will develop an appreciation of origami as a form of sculpture.
“Most people’s conception of origami is based on their experiences as a child; they think of it as cranes, flowers and simple toys,” he said. “I hope to bring the realization that there is incredible depth and beauty in the art that goes far beyond the traditional craft.”
Artist Susan Happersett, who will be at the opening reception, has also contributed several pieces to the event. Most of her works, usually ink on paper or oil on canvas, depict flowers created with mathematical sequences and algorithms, such as the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, ...).
Brown explained that the Fibonacci sequence is often found in nature, such as the number of petals on a flower or the fact that humans have five digits.
Happersett said she came to art through mathematics, a field she was always drawn to.
“I thought there was a lot of grace and beauty in it,” she said. “It became my mission to show people this. I couldn’t understand when people said they didn’t like math.”
Robinson also plans to show Happersett’s video, “Chaos — The Movie,” a six-minute stop-motion animation film in which she creates a line drawing based on Chaos Theory over a period of six months. The theory examines complex systems whose behavior is very sensitive to small changes in conditions — so much so that even the most minor alteration can result in significant change.
In her piece, Happersett used a stencil, and the small margin of error it contained resulted in the finished product: a large, white flowerlike shape composed of thousands of lines.
“I’m an artist, but my subject matter is mathematics,” said Happersett, who went to college for math before pursuing art in graduate school. “I’m not a mathematician; I’m an artist. The aesthetic of the final product is paramount.”
The public is invited to the opening reception Feb. 5 for food and refreshments. The exhibit, located at IVS in Roop Hall, Room 208, will run through March 29. Tours are also offered, whether impromptu or pre-arranged, and groups are welcome to attend.

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