Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mathematics, A Beautiful Elsewhere

Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain is a medium-sized exhibition space in Paris that regularly surprises us by proposing delightful small-scaled exhibitions of whatever appears to be a new trend in the world of contemporary art. The events are not huge, but very carefully chosen as to let you in on the artistic wave of the moment, and to leave you enough time to process and contemplate on the  exposed pieces [which is to be contrasted to the large scale exhibitions where one is often rushing to  (pointlessly) see everything -- our brains cannot absorb too much art and saturates after an hour or so.]

I don't blog here on the exhibitions but this time I must make an exception. Fondation Cartier surpassed themselves and proposed something intellectually enriching, very creative, and totally new...

They assembled some of the world's leading mathematicians from different branches of mathematics together with some of the most curious and open-minded (popular) artists of our time to explore the possibilities to open the fascinating field of mathematics to a wider audience.

On the mathematics side they invited: Michael Atiyah, Jean-Pierre Bourgignon, Alain Connes, Nicole El Karoui, Misha Gromov, Giancarlo Lucchini, Cédric Villani and Don Zagier, while for the artistic views on mathematics and its impact on science and philosophy they invited: Jean-Michel Alberola, Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret, Takeshi Kitano, David Lynch, Beatriz Milhazes, Patti Smith, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Tandori Yokoo.

Mathematics is not only a set of rules or a logical framework that makes clean, irrefutable statements. It actually paved the way to modern physics and modern technology that radically changed our lives -- especially in the past 20 years or so. Its impact on philosophy and modern thinking is tremendous. Even among top philosophers and social scientists it is very little known about new corners of human thinking that are being currently tackled by mathematics.

To make the genesis of the 20th century science --whose development is so tightly connected to mathematics-- there is a large circular white room, with cleverly positioned projectors showing images both on the screen and on the ceiling (with sound effects concocted by Patti Smith) talking about the  system of scientific thinking, empirical and rational that dispels superstitious and ignorant [several sofas are at visitors' disposal as well as the small spongy pieces that you can use to sit or lay down on the floor -- and let yourself embark into the contemplating mode].
Another room explains the relation between mathematics and advances of both the modern particle physics and cosmology, that are currently searching the explanation about the origin of Dark Matter but from two opposite (complementary) ends, i.e. by exploring the physics at infinitesimally small distances and those that are cosmologically large.
There is a room with robots showing how the newly developed algorithms (also mathematics!) --offspin of neural networks-- allow the robots to communicate with each other, and how the learning process of communication between them is controlled.
There is a pure math section with an interesting sculpture obtained from the mathematical expression that designates infinity. In another large dark room on a huge screen placed on one of the walls,  famous mathematicians are discussing --in laymen terms-- the fascinating features of their respective branches of mathematics, each focalizing on the epistemological impact, rather than dwelling on too many details.

If you are in Paris or around, don't miss this experience that is so much more enriching than the usual exhibitions you might see.

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