Sunday, 19 December 2010

beautiful equations

Today I watched the BBC 4 programme Beautiful Equations. I loved it. If slightly off centre for my research, it certainly asked the question can maths be beautiful? and gave scientists opinions on the answer, delving back as far as Isaac Newton and ending with Stephen Hawkins view today.

This programme was brilliant for me as it was made by an artist and art critic Matthew Collings, so was asked from a similar perspective to mine, whilst being answered, for the viewers benefit, in fantastically simple laymens terms. Hooray! I actually feel as if I understand a bit about maths, and am a little clearer about where I am headed with my research. 

The conclusion of this programme is that equations are "masterpieces that explain the universe we live in".  It would seem that several of the scientists featured in this programme used the idea of mathematical beauty to guide their work. Both Dirac and Einstein believed that the laws that governed the universe would have an elegant beauty, or simplicity, and therefore so would the equation that described them. Therefore, the idea of mathematical beauty comes back to nature, to simplicity and to purity of ideas, and leads to the notion that by pursuing beauty you end up with truth. 

Unfortunately it is only available to watch on BBC iplayer for another few days, so if anyone wants to catch up download now!

Friday, 17 December 2010

knitting - a teaching aid for maths?

Today I was sent a link to a video that showed and discussed the use of knitting in the classroom as a teaching aid for maths. Below is a highlight of the video via You Tube. Click here for the full video on

The use of knitting being used in schools to aid learning interests me greatly, especially as part of the aim of my creative project is to use knitting as a form of accessible and tactile numerical communication.

This teaching took place in Shaftesbury Primary School in London. The maths teacher had a passion for knitting, and recognised how the use of numeracy within the knitting process could make maths both more accessible and easier to understand for those pupils who may ordinarily struggle with numbers and give them a chance to shine.

Children who excelled in knitting were teamed with children who were good at maths, and they were given several different tasks to complete that tackled many different areas of mathematical learning, from a timed knitting 'race', which combined the use of measurement, time, prediction and recording of data, to the adding and subtraction of stitches to form a certain shape, to the understanding and calculation of costing a garment.

The teacher felt that the important part of learning through knitting was that it took numeracy out of books and brought it to life. It inspired the children, put maths into a context and gave them a tangible and visible result for their efforts.

the maths of miyake

Yes, here is yet another Issey Miyake maths inspired collection!

I was really excited to learn of Miyake's Autumn/ Winter 2010/11 ready to wear collection, a collaboration between Issey Miyake's creative director Dai Fujiwara and William Thurston, Professor of mathematics and computer science at Cornell University. "We used the technology of mathematics to make art" said Fujiwara at the opening show in Paris this March.

Fujiwara and Thurston share an interest and enthusiasm in three dimensional design, so the  collection entitled '8 Geometry Link Models as a Metaphor of the Universe', based on the fundamental geometries of three dimensional spaces, was of mutually beneficial interest to the pair. This article from ABC news and this interview on You Tube by Parismodesen gives an interesting insight into the common interest that unites these two seemingly disparate professions. Thurston explained "We are both trying to grasp the world in three dimensions, under the surface, we struggle with the same issue."
Fujiwara created garments based on different elements of Thurston's principles, resulting in inwardly twisting, knotting and crossed draped fabrics.

These designs have been criticised for there over simplified form, and there is no doubt that they are only loosely based on mathematical principle and not a literal interpretation, but then they have been used as inspiration, rather than to communicate an idea.

As one of my main focuses for this research I am looking at the question can maths be beautiful? As a designer I find these interpretations of mathematical ideas aesthetically pleasing. Is that because beauty truly lies 'in the eye of the beholder', or is there actually a winning formula that the majority of us would agree as beautiful? I find this collection of particular interest as there are many similar mathematically knitted objects already out there on  websites, such as that of Sarah - Marie's: The Home of Mathematical Knitting.

Even if the 'perfect' pattern is defined for us by the laws of mathematical 'beauty' (that of proportion & symmetry etc), there will always be a very personal design decision made by the knitter as to choice of scale, tension, yarns and colour used, and it appears to me that it is these elements that determine as much aesthetic value as the pattern itself.

Friday, 3 December 2010

freddie robins

Today I have been looking at the Freddie Robins project "how to make a piece of work when you are too tired to make decisions" . Robins conceived the idea for this when her daughter was only a few months old, and due to lack of sleep and time constraints she devised a way of working that eliminated the decision making process from her machine knitted textile art.

She achieved this by using 3 dice to select predefined choices. One die was to select the colour of the yarns, one to give numbers for the stitches and rows, and one to decide the technique that was to be knitted.

The results are an interesting reflection of a serendipitous piece of work, and also of how many smaller elements can be assembled to create a larger piece.

Although different in many ways from what I am hoping to achieve, the idea of the project is an interesting one, and has strong links with the idea of random theory and probability, which is a possible way forward for my work.

Obviously, Robins has come from a very different starting point and so her aims and objectives are not the same as mine. Although Robins used the dice to determine a random pattern, she did make decisions that were preassigned to each number thrown and these decisions were altered as the process developed, in order to achieve 'more consistently successful results".

I am quite surprised to find how much I like the idea of the random nature of the designs, but not the designers interference in the process. This is something I think I will battle with in my own work. Relinquishing aesthetic control is difficult for a designer, especially when my main aim is to produce something that is both mathematically viable and an object of beauty.