“Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere” is a unique exhibition created by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain with the aim of offering visitors “a sudden change of scenery,” to use an expression of mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck. The Fondation Cartier has opened its doors to the community of mathematicians and invited a number of artists to accompany them. They are the artisans and thinkers, the explorers and builders of this exhibition.
“You start reading and your conversation with the Universe begins.”
Beatriz Milhazes & BUF, Sea Waves (wave equation), image from a film by Beatriz Milhazes and BUF,
Mathematical paradises, 2011. Courtesy of Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris.
“Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere” is a unique exhibition created by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain with the aim of offering visitors “a sudden change of scenery,” to use an expression of mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck. The Fondation Cartier has opened its doors to the community of mathematicians and invited a number of artists to accompany them. They are the artisans and thinkers, the explorers and builders of this exhibition. A large number of eminent mathematicians and scientists contributed to the creation of this exhibition, representing a wide range of geographical backgrounds and mathematical disciplines, from number theory to applied mathematics. Nine artists, with a great sense of curiosity and wonder, joined them: Jean-Michel Alberola, Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret, Takeshi Kitano, David Lynch, Beatriz Milhazes, Patti Smith, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Tadanori Yokoo, and Pierre Buffin.
This exhibition invites visitors to journey deep into the heart of mathematical thought, from pure to applied mathematics, from the discipline itself to the women and men who make it. Inspired by the thoughts and ideas of all of the mathematicians involved in the exhibition, Lynch has invented a structure in the shape of a zero to accommodate mathematician Misha Gromov’s Library of Mysteries. From Archimedes to Poincaré, Descartes to Einstein, the Library provides a retrospective of the major events in the history of mathematics and human thought via an audiovisual installation designed by the American filmmaker with the help of Smith. “The symbols you recognize are words and the mirrors are books. You start reading and your conversation with the Universe begins,” says Gromov.
Questions for artists:
Why did you decide to become involved in this exhibition?
Patti Smith: I have always found mathematical models beautiful. I have always loved the perfection of geometry, although my relationship is an aesthetic one. The diagrams produced by Piero della Francesca, to illustrate his studies of Archimedes are exquisite. This exhibition celebrates such inherent beauty, and reminds us why E. T. Bell called mathematics ‘the queen of science.’ It also offers everyone a humanistic and accessible entrance into this wonderful realm.
Beatriz Milhazes: When Hervé Chandès explained to me the project I immediately found it a very unusual, intelligent, and quite unique idea. Math has been connected to art works forever, as artists have used it as a reference and an element to help them develop their artistic research. I’m very interested in geometry, which is a math subject. However what I think that the key answer or question for this project is that from an artistic point to discover how math is everywhere in the world, how math is part of our lives!
Hiroshi Sugimoto: I think art and mathematics and even religion all serve the same purpose, to explain things we do not understand. The pairing of art and mathematics made perfect sense for an exhibition.
For Misha Gromov, scientific feeling is “Round us, near us, in depth and height, soft as darkness and keen as light” (Algernon Charles Swinburne, Loch Torridon). What does this thought inspire in you?
Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret: How immense the thinking of scientists is and how small we are in relation to it.
Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret, Au Bonheur des Maths, 2011 (filmed portrait of Alain Connes).
Courtesy of Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris.
Patti Smith: I think these lines of Swinburne intimate that we are not alone. That something both measurable and immeasurable surrounds us. However that translates to one it is comforting, both in its infinite expanse and containment.
Takeshi Kitano: I agree with Mr. Gromov. In particular, science is great, as it can be all around us, including you and me, without us noticing it.
Misha Gromov distinguishes four mysteries in the world: the nature of physical laws, the mystery of life, the function of the brain, and the mystery of mathematical structure related to the first three. What would be the fifth mystery for you?
Jean-Michel Alberola: The fifth mystery is thus the mystery that cannot be named, the mystery that embraces the other four, that is to say, the stuff of the waking dreams of magicians, storytellers, shamans, sorcerers, healers, saints, artists, ghosts, and the dead that roam around the Earth … spirits of the forest, rocks, rivers, animals and stars. All of this warm density that continues to keep us, even today, from getting lost.
David Lynch: What it is like living in ‘Totality’.
Takeshi Kitano: The fifth mystery would be your comprehension of my ability—that I would be able to answer your question!
This exhibit is on view until 18 March 2012 at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris.