Art of Science: Frozen Fractals All Around

A Sierpinski Triangle by Simon Beck

In the wake of snowstorm Jonas, the east coast of the US has been consumed with snow math – counting up the number of inches that fell, the miles of roads plowed, and the days of work lost – but that’s basic arithmetic compared to Simon Beck’s advanced snow mathematics.

A Mandelbrot Set in progress

For more than a decade, Beck has made elaborate designs in snow, mainly in the French Alps, using only snowshoes and a compass. He started out making mandala-like circular shapes, but moved on to much more complex designs over the years. Beck told Discovery News that he started incorporating fractal patterns into his work after reading James Gleick’s book “Chaos: Making a New Science.”

Each image takes him up to 11 hours to make, as he walks 25-30 miles to make a design of about 100 meters square.  Beck says that he started making snow art mainly as a form of exercise, but it has now become his life’s work. You can see much more at his website.

Sierpinski Circle by Simon Beck

The Art of Science: Hiroshi Sugimoto Gets Right to the (Infinity) Point

Mathematical Model 009 Surface of revolution with constant negative curvature, 2006
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mathematical Model 009, Surface of revolution with constant negative curvature, 2006

Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto is best known for his photography, especially his gloriously simple compositions of seascapes and lightning. But my favorites are his sculptures based on mathematical models. According to Art News, “Drawn to the objects’ purity of form and also inspired by Man Ray’s interest in photographing mathematical models, Sugimoto first photographed nineteenth-century plaster examples for his Conceptual Forms series. During the process, he was struck by the softness and fragility of the vintage models – many had lost pieces or no longer possessed the sharpness that they were meant to represent. Sugimoto sought to extend the limits of these mathematical models using cutting-edge technology, searching out the highest-level precision metalworking team in Japan. For Conceptual Form 009, a model of the equation for a surface containing a single point extended to infinity, Sugimoto succeeded in creating an infinity point with a mere one millimeter diameter, the minimum width before the material itself becomes structurally unstable.”

I can’t even begin to understand the math behind it, but as a visual representation of an “infinity point” it’s hard to top that.  If you live in LA, don’t miss the chance to see an exhibition of Sugimoto’s work at the Getty Museum from February 4-June 8 . If you don’t, see lots more of his work at his website.

The Art of Science: Peter Trevelyan’s Delicate Geometry

Peter Trevelyan, detail from Tenuous, 2012
Peter Trevelyan, detail from Tenuous, 2012

As an artist looking at other people’s work, I am always intrigued by artists doing things that I couldn’t possibly do myself. Things, for example, requiring extraordinary patience, dexterity and complicated geometry.  Things like the work of New Zealand artist Peter Trevelyan, who makes “built drawings” – fragile, airy sculptures made of fine graphite rods (the lead from mechanical pencils) held together with glue.

Trevelyan’s work is informed by a broad range of influences. His interest in mathematics, drawing and architecture are evident in his sculptures. Less obvious, perhaps, is his fascination with theories of social systems. Some of his sculptures look at social systems as a collection of individual decisions – each individual pencil lead – which combine to form a structure that can be symmetrical and beautiful or oddly misshapen and rather menacing.

You can find more images and information on the website of Trevelyan’s gallery, Bartley + Company.

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