Sunday, September 03, 2006

ICM Exhibition Photos & Thoughts

It's amazing to me how quickly all the day-to-day stuff I do can get backlogged just by being gone for a week. I took a short trip to Madrid for ICM and when I get back I have two thousand emails waiting. Half of those turn out to be junk (easily identified, but that spam filter needs tuning again) but still, it takes some time to get caught up.

Now it's the weekend, and I think I've managed to catch up. Catch up enough that I was able to sift through the photos that I took in Madrid, stitch together some panoramic photos of the fractal art exhibition there, and post them. And maybe think a little bit about the exhibition and fractal art.

Sometimes fractal art gets no respect from the "art crowd," but I've usually found that the public seems very receptive. Conde Duque in Madrid has a three-part exhibit about mathematics and art. One part is about why mathematics is important, and has some hands-on ways to experiment with some of the questions and ideas currently being explored in mathematics. One part is "demoscene", using computers to rendering images and music in real time using mathematics. And one part is the fractal art exhibition, using some images selected from the recently-held contest. This exhibition had people lined up to see it. An amazing thing, really; laypeople lined up, waiting patiently to see an exhibition about mathematics. Positively wonderful.

This same collection of fractal art was also on display at ICM, the International Congress of Mathematicians, a collection of math geeks of the highest caliber. This is a very different sort of audience, but Benoit Mandelbrot himself was there, and was impressed with the quality of the artwork. His perspective was interesting. While you cannot prove anything with a pretty picture, what you can do is bridge the gap between the common perception of math as difficult or boring and the reality that math can be wonderfully expressive and endlessly fascinating. Fractal art serves a useful purpose quite aside from merely being art.

I also had the opportunity to have dinner with Prof. Mandelbrot while I was in Spain. It was amazing to listen to him talk about Gaston Julia, not as a figure of mathematical legend, but someone that he knew. This is of course to be expected, and yet it still seems strange. We never think of "great" people as being normal, but greatness in one area of life does not describe a complete person. It reminded me that real history is not just a sequence of emotionless facts, but actions conducted by real people with real motivations, peppered with moments of outstanding significance. If you were to chart mundaneness of someone's life, it would probably be fractal, although for some people it might have a higher fractal dimension than for others.


Blogger Tim said...

What a great event in the history of Fractal Art. It sounds like it was a real sucess. I like those panoramic photos too.

You know, I've never seen a fractal anywhere except on my computer screen. To see them displayed in a huge gallery like that is really amazing.

And Prof. Mandelbrot himself too, standing in front of your artwork. I guess it says something about the youthfulness of Fractals that a legendary person like him is still around.

Dinner with Mandelbrot... That's pretty far out.

9/03/2006 10:23 PM

Blogger aartika said...

Thank you Damien for posting your photos! It's such a thrill to see the big man himself at the exhibition, and what a great experience it must have been for you to meet hime and to see all your hard work come to fruition in this way. Congratulations! Tina

9/04/2006 2:49 AM


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