Mathemalchemy

Co-creation in progress

This amazing project gathering 18 mathematicians/artists and Dominique will result in a mathematical art installation. Featuring many individual art objects, Mathemalchemy will attempt to visualize mathematical creativity (discerning patterns, formalizing and studying those, and then using them in completely different contexts). 

The team hopes that the finished piece will speak to the imagination of many viewers who are not mathematicians, offering a glimpse of the excitement and creativity inherent to the pursuit of mathematics.

August 2019: Ingrid Daubechies Kindles the project

In August 2019, Ingrid Daubechies saw Dominique’s Time to Break Free at Highfield Hall & Gardens. Impressed by the vividness with which Dominique’s work expresses metaphors, she contacted the artist to ask whether she would be interested in a project that would use a similar narrative “stream” to visualize linkages and creativity in mathematics.

Through multiple and frequent conversations between Ingrid and Dominique in Fall 2019 exploring how such a collaborative installation could take shape, the Mathemalchemy project emerged.

“Mathematical Alchemy” on many different levels

From the beginning, the project aimed to incorporate many components, including a wide range of objects that will each be beautiful and mathematically appealing in their own right, but that will nevertheless integrate in one dynamic, harmonious whole. In a preliminary version, Dominique sketches and then assembles a maquette of the elements at many different scales:

  • a very wide, almost all-encompassing scale, like the wide sweep of the rainbow-colored balls “going off to infinity” or the turbulent streams of air blowing out of the horn played by the girl perched on a pile of mathematics books;
  • intermediate scales: where many of the individual “objects” will live (the flowers, a “sun”, the quilt with formulas, …);
  • fine scales: textures on the rainbow balls, decorations on the clothing of critters.

The project is also meant to convey a mathematical alchemy, illustrating many different mathematical concepts, corresponding to many different fields (fluid
dynamics, symmetry groups, geometry, number theory and cryptography, among others).

In concrete realization it will be an alchemy of different techniques and media as well, using not only textile but also metal sculpture, 3D-printing, papier-maché, woodwork, ceramics . . . (not an exhaustive list!)

Most importantly, it will also illustrate not just mathematical objects or concepts, but also the mathematical enterprise/culture itself, namely how concepts can be teased out from concrete or abstract observations, form the basis for mathematical theory, which then in turn find many different roles in applications in science, in other mathematics and in technology.

Presentation and recruitment

To make all this possible, and to make it a rich mixture, artistically as well as mathematically, it seemed essential, from the start, to have the participation and commitment of a whole team of mathematicians and artists who would work jointly on conception as well as realization.

On January 15th 2020 at the Join Mathematics Meeting (the largest mathematics meeting in the world) in Denver, Ingrid and Dominique presented the project and the scale model of Mathemalchemy. The welcoming was excellent. The first meeting of part of the mathematician and artist group present in Denver and who will be involved in the creation of the installation took place.

Until the JMM, Mathemalchemy was no more than a brainchild of Ingrid and Dominique, and it was not clear whether it could be realized. Now that a team of committed mathematicians/artists has been assembled and that our sponsors have agreed to found Mathemalchemy, the project can go forward.

January 2020: Assembling the Team

Multiple spirited, gifted artists and clever mathematicians manifested their desire to be part of the Mathemalchemy project.

Artistic and Realization Direction

Dominique Ehrmann

Team Members at Duke University

  • Ingrid Daubechies
  • Dorothy Buck
  • Shan Shan
  • Kathy Peterson

Team Members outside Duke University, in alphabetical order

  • Francesca Bernardi
  • Bronna Butler
  • Rochy Flint
  • Faye Goldman
  • Susan Goldstine
  • Li-Mei Lim
  • Sabetta Matsumoto
  • Samantha Pezzimenti
  • Tasha Pruitt
  • Kim Roth
  • Henry Segerman
  • Jessica Sklar
  • Daina Taimina
  • Ed Vogel
  • Jake Wildstrom
  • Carolyn Yackel

February 2020: Mathemalchemy Obtains Funding

We are extremely thankful for the help and financial support of our sponsors. With their precious participation, the Mathemalchemy project can go forward and explore how to visualize mathematical creativity.

Leverhulme Trust
Rhodes Information Initiative